In the aftermath of the BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, Food & Water Watch, an environmental consumer organisation, has called on EU authorities to tighten inspections of oil production facilities to avoid similar disasters in European waters. The European Commission has already held preliminary talks on the issue with industry representatives.

US-based Food & Water Watch and its European programme Food & Water Europe warned the European authorities that they must strengthen their oversight and inspections of deepwater oil platforms operating in European waters.

Referring to the BP accident as a "cautionary tale for Europe," the NGO stresses that EU officials should ensure that member states are regulating deep-water operations adequately and that companies are not "cutting corners where safety is concerned".

A similar disaster in the North Atlantic or Atlantic would foul the entire North Sea, it argues.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said the NGO wanted the European Commission to re-evaluate offshore oil exploitation and require EU member states to make sure operators have the necessary engineering documents to operate safely.

She also suggested that the Commission should assess the need for a separate directive on deep-sea drilling to strengthen oversight of oil industry's offshore operations. "Some basic standards are needed on how oil companies are operated and there needs to be platform safety requirements regarding building, operating and maintaining the platform as well as dealing with a potential problem," Hauter added. 

European Parliament debate inconclusive

The European Parliament held a debate on security and prevention measures on offshore oil platforms in the EU on 18 May. But the House failed to adopt a resolution calling for tighter inspection methods, stronger safety rules and strengthening of international rules for off-shore exploration and drilling.

The resolution was drafted by Polish MEP Bogusław Sonik (European People's Party), vice-chairman of the House's environment committee.

Sonik told journalists yesterday (8 June) that his attempt to launch a proper debate on the matter in the House was watered down by EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who had met BP officials "behind closed doors" on the matter and was not planning to move quickly.

Oettinger's spokeswoman refuted accusations that the meeting was held in secret. She confirmed to EurActiv that Commissioner Oettinger had held a meeting with several oil companies - including Shell as well as BP - on 11 May to discuss whether there are any loopholes in EU legislation that needed to be addressed.

No decisions were taken at this first meeting, she added.

The companies are expected to fill in a 12-point "self-evaluation" questionnaire asking them about their capacity to respond to a disaster similar to the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The questionnaire, which also asks oil companies to evaluate their safety measures in place, will be discussed at the next meeting between the EU executive and national authorities in July.

Wenonah Hauter stressed that the Commission "must not enable the industry to evaluate itself when it comes to safety" and called for public access to the answers from the questionnaires.