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Spill prompts tougher British oil rig inspections

By the CNN Wire Staff
A drilling platform near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig which sank in April creating an "environmental catastrophe."
A drilling platform near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig which sank in April creating an "environmental catastrophe."
  • Britain to step up North Sea oil rig inspections
  • Move prompted by Gulf of Mexico spill, Britain says
  • "Every reason to increase vigilance," Britain says

London, England (CNN) -- Britain will step up its inspection of North Sea drilling rigs following the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the government announced Tuesday.

The government will also increase monitoring of offshore drilling compliance and has asked a new oil industry group to report on Britain's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said.

"The events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico are devastating and will be enduring," Huhne said in a statement. "What we are seeing will transform the regulation of deep water drilling worldwide. It's my responsibility to make sure that the oil and gas industry maintains the highest practices here in U.K. waters."

Current measures are up to standards but must be strengthened in light of the Gulf of Mexico spill, Huhne said.

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"It's clear that our safety and environmental regulatory regime is fit for purpose," he said. "It is already among the most robust in the world and the industry's record in the North Sea is strong. For example, we already separate regulation of operations and safety.

"But the Deepwater Horizon gives us pause for thought and, given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters West of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance."

Tougher steps are already being taken, Huhne said.

They include doubling the number of drilling rig inspections by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which is responsible for licensing, exploration, and regulation of oil and gas developments on the U.K. Continental Shelf, he said.

The DECC is also reviewing the indemnity and insurance requirements for operators on the U.K. Continental Shelf.

Huhne said Britain's stringent safety regulations came into force after the Piper Alpha disaster in July 1988, when a gas leak led to a major fire that engulfed the platform in the North Sea. Of the 229 people aboard the rig, 167 died.

Operators of oil rigs must now analyze the potential dangers on an installation, the consequences of any incident, and their methods to control the risks.