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Europe to press oil giants on disaster clean-up responsibilities

One year after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the EU's energy commissioner wants to make sure oil companies are held responsible for cleaning up pollution off the coasts of Europe.

The Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer is lifted out of the Gulf of Mexico by the Helix Q4000

The Deepwater disaster was the worst oil spill in US history

European Union Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is preparing legislation that would force oil drillers to clean up pollution up to 200 nautical miles off Europe's coasts.

The current EU "polluter pays" principle only applies to spills within a distance of 12 nautical miles.

"We're doing everything to make sure that catastrophes, like in Fukushima or a year ago in the Gulf of Mexico, don't happen in Europe," Oettinger told German daily Die Welt on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Oettinger said the EU already had legislation in place governing oil platforms, but nothing dealing specifically with platforms far out at sea.

"The majority of the oil drillings do not take place within these 12-mile zones, but beyond that, until the 200-mile zone," Marlene Holzner told Deutsche Welle. "So we do intend to extend this jurisdiction to the 200-mile zone so that all the oil drillings we have in Europe are within this directive.

"We just wanted to learn from the US experience, and we are now trying to close this loophole," she said.

"The second aim is that once a disaster happens, we would like to make sure that the company has to pay a remedy for the whole situation, and that it has the financial means [to do so]," she added. "We would like to avoid a situation by which something happens, you have the damage which is already really bad, but then it is the public authority or the citizens who have to pay for the damage caused."

Oettinger is expected to present the new legislation in mid-July. There are roughly 1,000 oil-drilling platforms in Europe, just under half of which are in waters near Scotland and northern England.

An ounce of prevention

Gunther Oettinger

Oettinger has tried to impose a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the EU

The energy commissioner's office would not release the finer details of its proposals, but Christoph Heubeck, who is a professor of geology at the Free University in Berlin, said the expansion of the polluter-pays zone to 200 miles would not be enough on its own.

"Maybe it would affect it marginally by putting additional pressure on oil companies to avoid such penalties and such financial responsibilities," he told Deutsche Welle. "But looked at on a larger scale, I don't see how this would have a direct impact on the chance of future oil spills.

"These would have to be implemented by additional technical measures and not by redistributing the geographic area of responsibility and shifting it from one source to the other."

The move comes on the anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster resulted in 11 deaths and sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf before the leak could be plugged.

In October, Oettinger was forced to abandon a bid to impose a moratorium on all deepwater drilling in European Union waters, under pressure from Scottish regulators and the North Sea oil industry.

Author: Darren Mara, Sarah Harman
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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