Oil-producing countries on Thursday rejected a German proposal for a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Northeast Atlantic that reflected environmental concerns after the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
At a meeting of environment ministers and officials from 15 European countries and the European Union, Germany suggested that offshore nations consider a temporary halt to the “drilling of new complex deep-water oil exploration wells.”
Greenpeace activists said offshore oil nations including Norway, Denmark and Britain opposed the draft at the two-day meeting in Norway’s west coast city of Bergen. Stefan Krug, a spokesman for Greenpeace Germany, called it “a shame” that host Norway was “not able to agree to adequate and urgent measures.”
Norwegian Environment Ministry spokesman Gard Nybro-Nielsen confirmed the German proposal was off the table.
Oil and gas resources in the North Sea have made Norway one of the richest countries in the world, but those resources are running out. Feeling the pressure, Norway is also exploring in the Barents Sea in the Arctic.
Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim told The Associated Press that Norway will not authorize new deep-water drilling until the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf has been evaluated, but doesn’t support an international moratorium.
President Barack Obama imposed a U.S. deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20 oil well blowout that killed 11 workers and spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf before it was capped in July.
The German proposal also called for making sure that offshore operations meet the highest safety standards and demanded an analysis of whether the circumstances that led to the Deepwater Horizon accident could also occur in the Northeast Atlantic.
However, Greenpeace says “new deep sea oil operations should be banned as the only sure way of preventing a Deepwater Horizon-like spill in Europe”.
Greenpeace research, published next week, will show that deep sea drilling, tar sands and other dirty and dangerous extraction methods would not be needed if the EU set better fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles.
Greenpeace EU transport policy advisor Franziska Achterberg said: “The safest way to guard against a deepwater disaster in Europe is not to go there in the first place. This kind of drilling is almost certain to create a Deepwater Horizon-like spill for Europe no matter how tight the rules. Regulators will always be playing catch-up as the industry chases after ever dirtier and more dangerous fuel reserves to keep up with demand. Deep water drilling should be banned. We simply don’t need it if we boost fuel efficiency”.
“Disappointingly, on the day after the US ended its deep sea drilling moratorium, Commissioner Oettinger has now distanced himself from his call earlier call for a moratorium and suspension of some of Europe’s riskier projects.”
The Commission proposes an overhaul of EU legislation to plug regulatory gaps and to position the EU Maritime Safety Agency to oversee national regulators’ enforcement of existing rules. A separate proposal to strengthen the EU’s disaster response is announced for later this year. Legislative proposals could come “by Spring 2011,” according to the Communication.
The Commission proposes an EU-wide licensing scheme setting minimum requirements for operators, including on technical and financial capability to deal with accidents. It argues that a national fragmented approach would slow down disaster response, leave areas of legal uncertainty and penalize EU countries with higher standards because of the effects of spills in countries with low standards.
Sources: Associated Press Writer Melissa Eddy in Berlin / Greenpeace Communications Jack Hunter

Inga Yandell
Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.