MPs reject North Sea oil drilling moratorium

A committee of MPs has opposed any moratorium on deep water drilling for oil in the UK's seas, warning such a move would undermine the country's energy security.

But the Energy and Climate Change Committee raised doubts over whether equipment used to clean up oil spills could work in the harsh conditions of the west of Shetland, where drilling in water as deep as 1,000 metres takes place.

And a lack of clarity over liability laws could leave UK taxpayers picking up bills for major oil spills offshore, a report by the committee in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster warned.

The MPs examined the implications of the disaster in which BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 workers and letting millions of barrels of oil pour into the sea.

They heard from Ministers, outgoing BP chief executive Tony Hayward and UK oil industry leaders – who claimed no moratorium was needed as the UK regulatory regime was "very, very strong".

Environmental groups called for a ban on new offshore drilling in UK waters.

The committee found that a moratorium on drilling west of Shetland would leave the UK more reliant on imported oil and gas. Chairman Tim Yeo said: "A moratorium on deep water drilling off the west coast of Shetland would undermine the UK's energy security and isn't necessary."

But he said: "The harsh and windy conditions in the North Sea would make an oil spill off the coast of Shetland very difficult to contain or clean up. Safety regulations on drilling in the UK are already tougher than they were in the Gulf of Mexico, but oil companies mustn't use that as an excuse for complacency."

The MPs said the Government must ensure responses to oil spills must be site-specific, not simply copy-and-pasted, and any new systems for capping wells and containing spills must be designed with the bad weather and cold, rough waters of the seas off Shetland in mind.