The decision by the House of Commons energy committee to examine the question of a ban on drilling west of Shetland in light of the Gulf of Mexico disaster is welcome. The beefing up of the number of civil servants in the energy department’s Aberdeen-based safety division, announced recently by the minister, Chris Huhne, appeared a little cosmetic.
That is not to argue that the safety regime west of Shetland and in the North Sea bears any resemblance to that in the United States, where regulatory capture by the oil industry would seem to be comprehensive; only that it would seem prudent to use the opportunity to review systems and procedures in this country, draw lessons from the United States and make safety as robust as possible. Such a review might make it easier to argue to the EU energy commissioner that a moratorium on drilling, as has been introduced by the US and Norway, is unnecessary.
Employees at Sullom Voe will also be reassured this week by the news that BP has no plans to hand over the operation of the terminal to Abu Dhabi-based TAQA, the biggest shareholder, as part of its global sale of assets designed to pay for the clean-up in the Gulf. The company has also restated its commitment to a huge investment program west of Shetland which, with the Total development, will reap some dividends for the Shetland economy.