A leading health and safety lawyer has called for the introduction of an international safety standard for the oil and gas industry in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico tragedy and oil spill.
Hilary Ross of Bond Pearce LLP, which has an international oil and gas team advising blue chip clients around the globe, believes lives will be saved and the environment protected if standards are consistent wherever oil and gas is produced.
‘North Sea safety was transformed following the Piper Alpha disaster and the Lord Cullen inquiry,’ she said. ‘While efforts must continue to raise safety standards on the UK Continental Shelf the safety case regime has worked well. The UK and Norway are highly regarded for their goal setting safety regimes which could provide the blueprint for an international safety standard.
‘American officials have already been across to the UK to see how our safety system operates. Oil professionals face varying standards as they move around the world on different operations, even if working for a single company and the introduction of an international standard could only be beneficial.’
Ms Ross will make the call for the introduction of an international standard at a forum being organised by Bond Pearce in Aberdeen in September. It is being held as a result of the growing concern among in-house legal teams at oil operators and service companies about contractual relationships in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident.
‘Clients are now taking this as an opportunity to re-examine their contractual arrangements in light of the unprecedented potential exposures following the incident. If you have different regulators, different requirements and differing focuses you are going to get varying standards. The oil industry will mould systems to meet the regulations in the jurisdiction in which they are working.
‘It is time for the regulatory authorities and the stakeholders to sit down and have an international conference and set the standards. If the industry does not grasp the initiative it is entirely possible, with pressure already mounting, that standards may be imposed on them.
‘There is a global standard for foods which works well so why not oil and gas?’
Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognised standards, codes of practice and guidelines which are developed and maintained by a commission which was established in 1963 by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. America is a strong supporter of Codex Alimentarius and, as it scrutinises its own oil and gas safety standards, Ms Ross believes it could be ideally placed to drive forward a similar scheme for the industry. Many of the major US operators also have North Sea interests and already share some standards.
Ms Ross concluded, ‘An international standard might stop a knee jerk reaction to proscriptive legislation which could stifle innovation and might not ultimately achieve safety. The industry is best placed to know how to operate safely, is in a position to recognise its own hazards, and therefore best placed to set the rules. Several of our clients have already indicated they believe the proposal would have a major impact on global safety.’