BRUSSELS, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The European Union is probing whether to recommend an offshore drilling moratorium as criticism of BP's plan to begin drilling for oil in the North Sea is increasing.
Until the early 1970s, Shetland was a sleepy, thinly populated archipelago northeast of Scotland that was known mainly for its diminutive pony breed. This changed in the early 1970s, when one of Europe's biggest oil and gas basins was found in the waters near the islands.
Today, Shetland is back in the media: Embattled BP hopes to start drilling for oil some 60 miles off the islands.
The waters around the islands aren't only home to a multitude of seabird, dolphin and whale species, they are also quite deep. The BP well would be laid at a depth of more than 4,200 feet -- worrying environmental activists who still see the disastrous effect of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"A gulf-style blow-out off Scotland's coast would wreak havoc to fragile habitats and biodiversity but also to the U.K.'s economic recovery," Greenpeace energy expert Joss Garman said in a statement. "Rather than drill deeper and deeper trying to reach the last drops of oil, ministers need to stop BP's plans for its deepest U.K. drilling and instead launch a comprehensive plan to go beyond oil."
BP responded with its own statement, saying the Shetland drilling plans were drafted in "full accordance with the U.K. regulatory regime and is being discussed with the Department of Energy and Climate Change." The company added that "any relevant lessons learned from the incident in the Gulf of Mexico will be applied in the drilling of this well."
London has said it is reviewing drilling practices in British waters and wouldn't green-light new drilling unless it was convinced that the wells meet highest safety standards. Apart from the well off Shetland, BP is also planning to drill in extremely deep water off the coast of Libya near EU member states Malta, Italy and Greece.
Yet across Europe, calls for an offshore drilling moratorium are becoming louder.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced a moratorium within weeks of the spill, and Norway, which isn't a member of the European Union but one of the continent's most important oil nations, has also issued one.
Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said he would like to see the EU member states follow up on that.
"Given the current circumstances, any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions," Oettinger told the European Parliament last month.
He added he was in favor of a "de facto moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon."
Oettinger has since met with representatives from the industry and afterward reiterated his pro-moratorium stance, saying that no new offshore wells should be laid this year.
"What is good for Norway should also be good for other EU member states," he said.