[JURIST] UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne announced Tuesday that the government will increase inspection [press release] of North Sea oil rigs and monitoring of offshore compliance and safety standards in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder] in the Gulf of Mexico. Huhne said that the government also established the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group [official website] to conduct a review of the UK's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) [official website] carried out its own review and found that the current system was on par, but Huhne feels it is necessary to strengthen regulations in light of the recent Gulf oil spill:
The events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico are devastating and will be enduring. What we are seeing will transform the regulation of deep water drilling worldwide. It's my responsibility to make sure that the oil and gas industry maintains the highest practices here in UK waters…It's clear that our safety and environmental regulatory regime is fit for purpose. It is already among the most robust in the world and the industry's record in the North Sea is strong. But the Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters West of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance.
The DECC has already taken initial steps to strengthen regulations by doubling the number annual environmental inspections to drilling rigs. Huhne stated that he will review new and existing procedures as soon as the detailed analysis of the factors which caused the Deepwater explosion are available.
Huhne's announcement follows a similar press conference held last month by US President Barack Obama [official website] to announce new regulations to mitigate future oil spill disasters [JURIST report] and the current plan of action for resolving the crisis created by the BP oil spill. The US government will be suspending several offshore drilling activities including exploration of platform locations in Alaska, pending lease sales in the Gulf and Virginia, and the drilling of 33 deepwater exploratory wells in the Gulf. The government will also suspend the issuance of new permits to drill deepwater wells for six months. Obama stated that increased government regulation in the oil industry was necessary to alter the "cozy and sometimes corrupt" relationship it has built with federal regulators, specifically the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official website]. The president admitted that even though Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] has worked hard to reform the once notoriously corrupt MMS, more action is necessary to ameliorate that agency's malfeasance. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The BP oil spill has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez [JURIST news archive] as the worst oil spill in US history.