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Safety of Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Directive

EU rules to prevent and respond to accidents on offshore installations.

The majority of oil and gas production in Europe takes place offshore. Following the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU, which operates 363 offshore installations, there are currently around 193 installations in European waters. Given the EU's high energy demand, these operations help ensure a secure supply of energy.

At the same time, accidents such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, illustrate the need for comprehensive safety measures. While safety is the primary responsibility of operators and individual countries, EU rules are important because an accident in one country can cause environmental and economic damage to its neighbours as well.

EU wide safety standards

Under the Directive on Safety of Offshore Oil and Gas Operations (2013/30/EU), the EU has put in place a set of rules to help prevent accidents, as well as respond promptly and efficiently should one occur

  • before exploration or production begins, companies must prepare a "Report on Major Hazards" for their offshore installation. This report must contain a risk assessment and an emergency response plan
  • companies must keep resources at hand in order to put them into operation when necessary
  • when granting licenses, EU countries must ensure that companies are well financed and have the necessary technical expertise
  • technical solutions which are critical for the safety of operators' installations must be independently verified. This must be done prior to the installation going into operation
  • national authorities must verify safety provisions, environmental protection measures, and the emergency preparedness of rigs and platforms. If companies do not respect the minimum standards, EU countries can impose sanctions, including halting production
  • information on how companies and EU countries keep installations safe must be made available for citizens
  • companies will be fully liable for environmental damages caused to protected marine species and natural habitats. For damage to marine habitats, the geographical zone will cover all EU marine waters including exclusive economic zones and continental shelves
  • under the directive, citizens can express opinion and comments on the environmental effects of planned offshore oil and gas exploration operations and must be duly informed by the authorities of their Member States

In 2015, the European Commission published a report and staff working document (SWD(2015)167) on liability and compensation in the case of offshore accidents in Europe. These documents look at how bodily injury, property damage and economic losses are handled, as well as the financial security instruments that would cover such damage. They build on the findings of a study carried out for the Commission that was published in 2014.

The competent authorities of Member States work together through the European Union Offshore Oil and Gas Authorities Group (EUOAG) to share best practices and improve standards.

To further promote offshore safety, the European Commission works with its international partners on the implementation of the highest safety standards worldwide.

In addition, since 2016 the Commission publishes an annual report on the safety of EU offshore oil and gas operations, the latest of which cover 2019.

Evaluation of the safety of offshore oil and gas directive

The directive entered into force in 2013. EU countries had to transpose the directive into national rules and regulations by 19 July 2015 and transitional periods for the industry applied until 19 July 2018.

The Commission currently assesses whether the directive, as implemented by the countries, has achieved the objective to ensure safe operations by

  • avoiding major accidents
  • limiting the number of incidents
  • mitigating the effects of any unintended releases of hydrocarbons or other hazardous substances

In 2020 the Commission provided a report to the European Parliament and the Council, along with a Staff Working Document (SWD) with additional background information, which outlines the implementing of the directive.