Oettinger proposes deepwater drilling moratorium

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The European Union should consider a moratorium on new deepwater drilling for oil until a probe is completed into the causes of BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Europe's energy chief said on yesterday (7 July).

"Utmost caution must be exercised for the moment with respect to new drillings," European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told the European Parliament, according to his speaking notes.

"Given the current circumstances, any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions," he added.

"This can mean de facto a moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations (such) as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon."

A US presidential panel to probe the cause of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will hold its first public meeting in New Orleans on 12-13 July and has six months to do its work.

The Obama administration had issued a moratorium on offshore drilling to give the commission time for its investigation, but it now hangs in the balance after a federal court lifted the ban. The US government is appealing.

Oettinger said the EU could still take precautionary steps before the US concludes its probe.

"Authorisation procedures must require demonstrations of the capacity of the operator to deal with critical events," said Oettinger.

"Equally, a demonstration of the financial strength necessary to assume full responsibility for damage caused is needed," he added. "We have to see what best instruments can be used in that regard, whether insurance obligations, a special European fund or some other adequately robust solution."

"If proven necessary, we will not hesitate to come with legislative initiatives in the coming months."

(EurActiv with Reuters.)

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