Big Oil steps up the battle for deep water drilling

Posted by bex — 12 September 2011 at 3:16pm - Comments
Winning logo from our Rebrand:BP competition
by. Credit: Laurent Hunziker / Greenpeace
The winning entry to our 2010 'Rebrand BP' competition

Another week, another push for reckless oil drilling by a UK company. This time it's BP, which wants to drill its deepest ever well in UK waters - a 1300 metre well - off the coast of North Uist.

BP first announced this plan last year, just weeks after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In the face of obvious questions about environmental impacts, the plans were quietly shelved.

Now, with BP clearly believing that public outcry over Deepwater Horizon has faded, the plans are back on the agenda. A few days ago the company launched a public consultation on this environmental statement (pdf) for its proposed North Uist well.

Disturbingly, in its statement, BP takes a leaf out of Cairn's book, claiming that some fish will just swim out of the way of any spill. The company also admits that a deep water blow out at North Uist could release 75,000 barrels of oil a day - worse that Deepwater Horizon's 55,000. Finally, BP claims that fitting the new cap to plug a deep water blow out will take between 10 and 35 days, and it gives no details at all about how long it would take to drill a relief well.

But, while oil companies step up the battle to drill for oil in ever riskier ways, public opinion against them is also gathering pace. Public pressure recently forced Greenland to publish Cairn's Arctic spill response plan, and over 12,000 of you have now asked Greenland to cancel Cairn's drilling programme.

This week, deep water drilling is also firmly on the political agenda, with proposed changes to oil drilling regulations being hotly debated in both the UK and the EU.

In Europe, MEPs will be voting on offshore drilling regulations tomorrow. After the European Commission proposed tightening EU laws on offshore drilling and requiring EU registered companies to stick to EU standards when operating in non-EU waters like the Arctic, the oil industry responded with fierce lobbying to try to water down the proposals; a committee of MEPs (led by UK Conservative Vicky Ford) has now published its pro-industry response.

The Greens, on the other hand, are calling on EU member states to ban exploration and extraction in environmentally sensitive areas like the Arctic altogether. Tomorrow's vote will help shape the direction any future EU legislation takes.

Meanwhile, here in the UK, the Energy Bill will be debated in Parliament on Wednesday. Again, it's shaping up to be quite a battle, with the Green Party's Caroline Lucas calling on the government to impose a moratorium on offshore drilling in fragile environments. Labour is also tabling some amendments that would force UK-registered oil companies to publish and publicly consult on their oil spill response plans, and to adhere to UK standards when operating outside of UK waters in places like the Arctic.

If Deepwater Horizon has taught us anything, it must be that oil companies can't be relied upon to regulate themselves; they will always put their own profit before the planet. Now legislators in the EU and the UK need to decide whether they will put in place the stringent laws needed to protect our global commons from reckless profit-seekers. 

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