Examination of Witnesses (Questions 188-226)|
Mr Steve Walker, Mr Philip Naylor, Dr Jonathan Wills
and Ms Susie Wilks
Q188 Chair: Good
morning and welcome. Thank you for coming to the Committee. We
have about an hour to range through a number of issues with you.
I appreciate that some of you come from slightly different standpoints
on this subject, but don't feel obligedeach of youto
answer every single question, unless you want to say something
different from what other people have said. Can I ask you to introduce
yourselves? This is the first time we have seen you in this Parliament.
So perhaps we could start with you, Mr Walker?
Mr Walker: Yes,
I'm Steve Walker. I'm the Head of the Offshore Division of Health
and Safety Executive.
Mr Naylor: I am
Philip Naylor. I'm the Director of Maritime Services for the Maritime
and Coastguard Agency.
Dr Wills: I'm Jonathan
Wills. I'm a wildlife tourism operator, a recovering journalist
and also a local councillor; although I attend today in a private
capacity and not on behalf of my council.
Chair: Did you say you are "a recovering
Dr Wills: I spent
20 years covering the oil industry.
Ms Wilks: I'm Susie
Wilks and I'm an environmental lawyer from a non-profit law firm,
Q189 Chair: Would
you like to start, perhaps, by saying how the Health and Safety
Executive's responsibility for offshore installations compares
to the regime in the United States?
Mr Walker: Yes.
It's different and we have additional and different layers of
regulation. In the UK we have a safety case regime whereby, before
an operator brings a drilling rig into the UK or operates a fixed
platform, they have to prepare a safety case for the Health and
Safety Executive to approve. I can go into that in more detail
if you want me to. The US doesn't have that. In addition, 21 days
before you drill a well, you have to send a fair amount of technical
detail about how that well is going to be drilled, designed and
so on, to the Health and Safety Executive. So that gives us an
opportunity to assess that well design, have discussions with
the company and take action if we need to. The US doesn't have
that. We also have a system of independent verification, which
is enshrined in law, both for the well design and also for the
safety-critical elements offshore, such as the BOP, and that would
involve independent verification by people like Lloyds and DNV.
The US doesn't have that.
We also have, I think, a different way in which
the regulator operates. I'd like to think we have a more sophisticated
inspection regime because we have a performance-based legislation.
Therefore, rather than just a checklist approach of inspection,
it is a more sophisticated inspection. And, lastly, in the UK
I'd like to think that we have a different safety culture compared
to the safety culture that applies in the Gulf of Mexicoa
lot more employee involvement and a healthier safety culture.
I can expand on that if you want me to.
Q190 Chair: Would
the Deepwater Horizon, for example, have been allowed to operate
in the UK in deep water, say with a single blind shear ram on
the blowout preventer?
Mr Walker: The
way in which that would have been done in the UK, we would have
seen that particular operation; we would have seen the design,
which would have come in 21 days before that well was drilled.
After discussions with my technical staff, we would have accepted
that BOP because its design was to the relevant standards and
we would have asked the well operator exactly, "Right, why
have you chosen that design? Why have you chosen, say, only one
ram or two rams", etcetera. We would then assess their answers
and decide whether we needed to take any action.
Q191 Sir Robert Smith:
Two things: earlier you mentioned the different safety culture
and that does seem to be, anecdotally, what a lot of people say,
as neighbours and friends in the north east of Scotland. But I
just wondered how we maintain that safety culture within the North
Sea as we fragment the ownership, going from larger companies
that can maybe permeate that culture to new entrants. How are
the new entrants inducted into the North Sea culture?
Mr Walker: I think
that is a challenge, as the industry changes from the major companies
to the smaller companies. Within the UK we do have organisations
such as Step Change, which is the industry's safety focus, of
which all operators who belong to Oil & Gas UK are membersand
the trade unions and the regulators. So that provides a very good
learning and networking environment and it does drive forward
safety on the UKCS. Part of that working is the workforce engagement,
workforce involvement work. So that is one way in which new entrants
will be inducted into the safety culture.
You also need to remember that, quite often, it's
the same people just turning around into different sort of organisations.
It's very rare for there to be a completely new company to come
into the UKCS. There are also the legislative requirements that
we have in the UK. We have legal requirements for there to be
safety representatives on every offshore installation, and safety
committees. So, whether you are a new entrant or an established
company, you still have to have that and my staff go out and make
sure that those arrangements are working.
Q192 Chair: Is
there a case for HSE to be more prescriptive about what technology
is being used?
Mr Walker: There
is always this argument about prescription against the performance
setting. Our line is very much that we see performance-setting
legislation as in fact much more challenging for the industry,
much more able to keep up with developments and provide, in the
end, a safer environment for those working offshore. I think I'm
quite pleased that, in the global discussions, other countries
seem to have accepted that the approach that we and the Norwegians
take on performance-based legislation has been taken up by people
like the Australians, the Canadians, and so on. And that seems
to be the approach that the Americans are now taking, post Deepwater
Q193 Dr Lee: Good
morning. A few questions on the spill response. When we had BP
here, I asked them about their oil spill response plan for the
Macondo well, because I had had access to it. My impression of
that document was that it maybe was cut and pasted, and I've since
been made aware of plans for ongoing exploration in other parts
of the world that have similar schoolboy errorsfor example,
references to animals that don't exist in the region in which
the well is being drilled. It is a broad question: are we happy
that the oil spill response plans that have been put in on the
UK continental shelf stack up?
Mr Naylor: Yes,
good morning. I accept the point that you make in relation to
cutting and pasting a plan; certain elements of a plan, it is
true, will be applicable for many types of field and for many
types of activity. One of the reasons for that is that the underlying
principles of dealing with a spill are going to be the same, regardless
of where the activity takes place. There will be some differences
reflected in the plan that, by and large, go to the heart of the
way the plan will model the behaviour of the spill following its
occurrence. The reference you make to Antarctic animals or Arctic
animals being present in the Caribbean, I think is well known.
I'm not sure that goes to the heart of dealing with a spill.
Dr Lee: I'm not so sure it was well known
before I said it.
Mr Naylor: Sorry.
Okay. I was aware of it, probably because I am in the business.
But, as I say, from the point of view of providing a practical
plan to deal with and to respond to a spill, the underlying principles
are similar, regardless of where the spill occurs.
Q194 Dr Lee: My
concern, though, it gives the impression of a bit of a slap"Oh
the environment thing. We'll deal with it". It didn't give
the impression that it was being taken seriously. That is my point.
Mr Naylor: Yes.
I wouldn't want to comment on that, other than perhaps to say
that another way of looking at that approach might be to say that
they're drawing on some tried and tested approaches to dealing
with the issue, rather than trying to come at everything from
first principles and make more mistakes along the way.
Q195 Dr Lee: Okay.
Staying within the realm of the plan, I also asked BP about their
use of dispersant at 5,500 metres subsea. Would you say "Yes"
if BP asked for that in Shetland?
Mr Naylor: The
use of dispersants in the subsea mode is something that emerged
from the response to the Macondo spill. I'm not sure that the
technology is sufficiently well developed to say that that is
a response that could be used at the moment.
Q196 Dr Lee: So
tomorrow, if you got the call, would you say "Yes"?
Mr Naylor: I think
we would need to have some evidence that it was an efficacious
way of dealing with the spill.
Q197 Dr Lee: So
you are saying that you would say no; because there isn't any
evidence, is there?
Mr Naylor: We haven't
seen any evidence, one way or the other. What we have seen coming
out of the response to Macondo are some views that say the use
of dispersants was developed and it seems to have an effect.
Q198 Dr Lee: Yes,
but over what time scale? I mean the whole problem with dispersants
is that they disperse oil to various areas of the Gulf. We don't
know where. We don't know how it is going to come out in the system.
We could be talking decades before we start seeing plankton that
are slightly affected, and then if those plankton are consumed
by fish and we eat the fishI mean the potential liability
here is great. What I want is a straight answer that you use an
evidence base before you say yes to using a technology like that.
Mr Naylor: I can
assure you of that.
Q199 Dr Lee: All
right. I recently had the pleasure of going to Oslo for a trip
and I asked at the Petroleum Ministry about the Norwegian approach
to licensing for deep sea drilling. It is not that there is a
moratorium in place, but the Minister said, "Before we give
any new licensing to deep water we will need more knowledge".
What knowledge do you think the Minister was referring to?
Mr Naylor: I'm
not sure what knowledge he was referring to.
Dr Lee: Any ideas what
he might be referring to, because we haven't suspended anything,
have we, and we have not suggested that we're going to suspend
Mr Naylor: As far
as I'm aware, we have treated the licensing that is in hand on
its merits. We've certainly changed the information that we need
to see in the operator's OPEP to respond to some of the experiences
that came out of the Gulf of Mexico, particularly in relation
to the operator's demonstration of the worst case scenario from
their well. I'm not aware of anything that would act as a reason
why we would say no.
Q200 Dr Lee: One
more question. It has been suggested to me that there may be a
managerial problem on wells on a rig, and that everybody on the
rig is under contract to the company that is drilling, which creates
a culture and an atmosphere whereby, if you're the Emperor's clothes
man and you say, "There's a problem here", that could
affect your employment in the wider industry. When I suggested
that there may be a managerial issue to Dr Hayward there was a
pretty negative response. But rumours are flying around that there
wasn't anybody on the well in Macondo to make the decision to
switch it off. Now, are we happy with the regulation in that area?
For instance, I go back to Norway. There is a union member on
each rig, and they are not viewed as a whistle-blower. They are
viewed as helping if they raise any safety concerns. I'm not suggesting
it needs to be a union man, it could be any nominated person,
but I am not aware that it is the same on our side. Are you happy
about that set-up? Are we happy that there is somebody on each
rig who can make that call?
Mr Naylor: Can
I answer that question from the point of view of the MCA's interest
in oil spill response? I wonder if you might want to direct the
question about the underlying safety culture to Mr Walker. The
first answer, in relation to the decision-maker on the rig, is
that, from the point of view of the MCA and our responsibility
for managing the response to pollution, for us it is very clearand
is an aspect that is captured in our national contingency planthat
there is an offshore installation manager on a rig. From our point
of view, that individual is the decision-maker. But I wonder if
you might like to direct the remainder of the question to Mr Walker?
Dr Lee: Yes.
Mr Walker: When
you have a drilling rig, there are usually two main organisations
on board: there will be the actual owner of the rigin the
case of Macondo, that was Transoceanand you'll also have
the well operatorin the case of Macondo, that was BP. Certainly,
in the UK, the owner of the actual rig has the control and the
responsibility for the safety of the people on board. So, as Philip
said, the OIMthe offshore installations managerhas
the final say. There is a need for both parties to co-ordinate
their activities because they have different, but separate, responsibilities.
The way in which we do that in the UK is that there will be a
bridging document between the rig owner's systems and the well
operator's systems to make sure that issues such as who has the
final saywho can press the BOP buttons, and so on
is well and truly agreed before you start the operation. So you
have a very clearly laid down procedure for that.
On top of thatyou mentioned the trade unions
in Norwayin the UK we have a system of safety representatives
on every rig or platform and so on. They don't have to be trade
union representatives, as such, but they are representatives and
they are voted on by the work force. And that's part of the increased
safety culture that we have in the UK, because people like that
can act as formal whistle-blowers. They have the strength of the
legislation behind them and also are accepted by the oil companies.
So there are two areasthe clarity of responsibilities via
the bridging document and the empowerment of employees by their
safety representatives to take action.
Q201 Chair: Dr Wills,
do you have a point on that?
Dr Wills: Thank
you, yes. I think if you asked the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee,
which is now part of the RMT union, they would give you a rather
different answer about safety reps. The split of responsibilities
here and in the States was mentioned earlier. After the Cullen
Report into Piper Alpha, we hived off health and safety regulation
to a separate organisation. In the States, regulation remained
in the same organisationthe Minerals Management Service,
I believe it's calledas the licensing authority and the
organisation responsible for promoting the industry, which is
part of what the Department of Energy does, and it has to be done.
We still have the promotion of the industry and its licensing
in the same Department. I think the Americans are catching up
on the way you have to split off health and safety, but we may
have some lessons to learn because they now have those three separate
There is pre-approval, as I understand it, for the
use of dispersants on the surface. The evidence I've seen from
studying Exxon Valdez, the Braer in Shetland, the Amoco Cadiz
and the Erika and various other spills is that the use of dispersants
on the surface is largely cosmetic. As Dr Lee said, we don't know
yet what the effect is if you use dispersants below the surface.
They are likely to spread the oil more widely through the water
column. They are likely to be ingested by various plankton and,
in some instances, we know the by-products from them ingesting
the oil can be more toxic than the oil itself. Basically, nature
cleans up and the only question is how long it takes and how bad
the effects are. I haven't seen any containment, dispersal or
clean-up equipment that works in the open Atlantic. It didn't
even in work in flat calm in the Gulf of Mexico. I haven't seen
an oil spill where more than 20% is recovered; and, of that 20%,
most of it is probably water because you recover an emulsion.
The old statement is that prevention is better than
cure. It's a truism, obviously, but there isn't any cure. The
only option in town is prevention, which is why what the gentleman
on my right is saying is so important. We have to make sure this
doesn't happen. I do not have the technical ability to argue with
him, but I do know that around the Shetland Islands and west of
the Shetland Islands are some of the most fragile and bio-diverse
marine ecosystems in the world, some of the most productive marine
ecosystems in the world, and we damage them at our peril. The
oxygen we're breathing in this air partly comes from the plankton
in the ocean.
Q202 Laura Sandys: I
was very interested when we had the session with Dr Hayward. He
said that BP had decided that there was no risk from deepwater
drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and they would focus on other
risks. When you're looking into the future, what risks that you
might have put aside are you bringing back to the table? This
issue that the industry itself has decided that certain aspects,
certain operations, do not come with risk is quite a concern from
my perspective. Also, when you talk about prevention rather than
cure, we need to pre-empt some of the issues and work collectively
with your bodies, but also internationally, to ensure that we
are predicting and that we do have actions in place.
Mr Walker: I must
admit, that statement from Tony Hayward I don't recognise in the
UK because the whole legislation and the whole safety ethos is
that companies need to look at the major hazard risks that could
occur during a particular operation. And that's the whole range,
not cutting anything out. Then they have to convince us, as the
regulator, that they have planned and have the facilities and
the capability for dealing with those risks. Companies have to
do that even before they start their operation and then part of
the role of my staff is to go out and make sure that their promised
procedures and processes are there and working. So I don't see
that we have ignored a particular area in the UK.
Certainly, drilling is a high-hazard operation. You
are drilling into a pressurised reservoir and there are precautions
that must be taken. As the development matures, as you put your
production platform in, as your production platform ages, you
have different risks. If you're talking about an old production
platform 30 years on, it's not the drilling problem there; it's
the ageing, it's the corrosion, it's the obsolescence of the machinery.
So from cradle to grave, there are significant risks in the offshore
industry that the industry must address. So I don't see that there
are bits where they're saying, "Oh, we're not going to bother
Q203 Laura Sandys: It
is just that they'd done the risk assessment and decided there
was no risk. I also am concerned about what the industry is taking
away from this particular disaster, which is that we always plan
our risk assessments on the last disaster. There might be other
issues that we need to address and I was just interested in how
you look at the wide breadth of risk assessments and whether we're
not just, in many ways, responding first of all to the Piper Alpha
issue, which determined a lot of our regulation. We're now going
to look at the Gulf of Mexico. That will determine our responses.
Do you think we need a total overhaul that in some ways looks
at a wider group of risks?
Mr Walker: I think
it's right that we do look at some of the root causations. If
we get too tied up with a particular incident, then we'll prevent
that incident but there will be other ones.
I think, to give you an example, we did a big programme
of work called KP3 between 2004 and 2007 that looked holistically
at how the offshore industry was managing its assetsin
other words, how it was keeping the oil and the gas in the pipeworkand
that was a three-year programme, 100 inspections and a report
afterwards. It did raise some fundamental issuesgeneral
issues about leadership, managing of assets and information. I
think it's by tackling those over-arching areas that the industry
can improve and we can ensure that the industry improves. It was
interesting; we did a follow-up from KP3. We did a review
and we did find that, although it's not completely hunky-dory
offshore, there had been a significant improvement by the industry.
And we're keeping on hammering those same areas of safety leadership,
of competence and so on, and the industry have picked that up
and made that one of their flagship improvement areas.
Q204 Sir Robert Smith:
I had better remind the Committee of my entry in the Register
of Members' Interests as a shareholder in Shell. But on KP3,
because the industry was looking at driving down the safety statistics,
was it not in a sense much easier to look at management, slips,
trips and falls and the things that could be measured? Had the
industry lost sight at that timeit maybe has that sight
backof the fact that if you don't keep the structural integrity
then you could end up with much larger incidents, albeit less
Mr Walker: Yes,
that's correct. It's very easy just to look at the slips, trips
and falls and what I call the occupational safety incidents, which
happen relatively frequently. To manage a major hazard activitythese
major hazards very rarely happen, but when they do happen they
have very big consequencesyou need to be looking at the
underlying precursors and the hints that all may not be quite
well. Therefore it does require a different way of managing, a
different way of leading and looking at different metrics in order
to see, "Are we doing all right? Do we have all our barriers
in place?" That was something that came out of KP3.
We felt the industry was too focused on occupational safety and
it needed to change to look at process safety and the major hazards.
When we did the KP3 review, we felt that there had been
a significant redirection of the industry, looking at the major
hazard potential of the offshore industry.
Q205 Albert Owen: Mr
Walker, you said the regulations were different in the UK to the
US. Is there anything unique about the operations off the west
coast of Shetland? Are there any unique issues there that need
Mr Walker: From
a drilling safety perspective, the geology will change, and it
can change very, very quickly. So West of Shetland covers a large
area but I don't think there are any particular challenges in
West of Shetland deep water that you won't have in deep water
in Norway, Brazil or the States. As I say, the geology is slightly
different over here than perhaps in the Gulf of Mexico, but the
geology can change and you can drill some relatively easy deep-water
wells in the West of Shetland and you can have some more challenging
wells. But, once again, it depends on where you're drilling. So
I don't think there's anything fundamentally different West of
Shetland. Deep-water drilling does have its challenges, but there's
nothing that brings West of Shetland out as a red-light area.
Q206 Albert Owen: What
about the biodiversity that Dr Wills mentioned and the environment?
Mr Walker: That's
something for the Department of Energy.
Q207 Albert Owen: I'm
not just asking you, I'm asking everybody. Would others like to
respond to the question about the uniqueness of West of Shetland?
Dr Wills: I think it's right that
technically, on the drilling side, there probably isn't anything
special. Although the wells out there are generally lower pressure
and in rather shallower water, they are still a major technical
challenge. The overriding problem out there is the weather. It's
appalling. Take what Total said in their recent environmental
statement. We rely on the oil industry for many of the details
we have of the meteorological regime and the biodiversity. The
industry has done some great research out there and it's very
useful to us. Total said "the area of the Atlantic Ocean
to the West of Shetland on the edge of the Continental Shelf is
characterised by extreme environmental conditions such as strong
winds, huge waves, very low temperatures and significant water
depth". That simply means that if something goes wrong, it's
going to be more difficult to fix it. It has just become slightly
more difficult because the MCA has decided to withdraw the emergency
towing vessel, emergency tug, which is designed to cope with drifting
tankers. In fact, it's extremely useful out there because it's
equipped with spraying equipment and it is also a fire-fighting
tug. It has just been withdrawn as an economy measure, which sends
Chair: Maybe the Navy will think it's
not an economy measure after what happened last week.
Dr Wills: It sends
us the wrong message, I'm afraid.
Q208 Albert Owen: But
isn't what you're saying there about the weatherthe fact
that there is terrible weather to deal with, and that they disconnect
from the wellsthat they are testing their equipment more
than they did in the Gulf of Mexico? So isn't there a plus side
Dr Wills: One would
hope so. When something does go wrong and it's a north-wester,
we have less than two days before the oil is ashore in a pristine
kelp forest; which is where the fish breed and live until they're
big enough to be caught by the fishing industry.
Q209 Albert Owen: There's
a lot of experience in the North Sea. Can we learn a lot from
what's happened in the North Sea and how different it is in the
West of Shetland? I hear what you say about the depth and the
pressure, and that has to be dealt with technically, but my concern
is the environmental damage that you talked about, possibly the
biodiversity that you talked about. What lessons have been learned
from the North Sea that can be learnt in the West of Shetland?
I go back to the point about the weather and the need to decouple
and to test the equipment more because what I found outrageous
in the responses that we had is that nobody had tested batteries,
for instance. You know, this is very basic to me; that in a multi-billion
pound industry there was no operator looking after the levels
of batteries. Are these issues being looked at? There was no preparedness
in the Gulf of Mexico. Are we prepared today?
Dr Wills: The battery
problem was one of the reasons there was Esso Bernicia spill in
1978new year 1979.
Q210 Albert Owen: So
this is recurring?
Dr Wills: It's
an old problem. It's a simple problem. The technical problems
that cause disasters tend to be quite simple. As I think Dr Lee
said, it's very often a management problempeople are not
following their own safety procedures, the whistle-blowers are
not able to call a halt to things and the managers are obviously
trying to make money for the company. That's what they're there
for. They're not there to protect the environment. They're there
to make money and good luck to them. It's our job to protect the
environment and make sure they do what their own procedures say
they should do and what our law says they should do. Because it's
not their oil, it's our oil. That's why they have to apply for
Q211 Albert Owen:
Mr Naylor or Ms Wilks, would you like to say whether anything
is unique about the West of Shetland?
Ms Wilks: From
a legal point of view, there's nothing particularly unique about
it. That area comes within the same safety case regulatory system
as any other area. I think, having listened to what the rest of
the panel have said, I understand the benefits of having a goal-setting
regulatory regime and I don't think that fundamentally there's
any problem with that. But it just is a way of regulating that
relies really strongly on having a strong regulator with efficiency
and capacity and robustness and proper independence. One of my
key concerns about the regulation, even on paper at the moment,
is some of the independence requirements. So, for example, in
the system of verification of well design by independent and competent
persons, the legal requirements for independence are not tough
enough. I understand that the system operates as a client relationship
essentially between the oil companies and the consultants who
carry out these verification systems. I would prefer to see that
brought on to a much more independent level and administered independently
with an extra level of oversight from an EU independent authority
While the UK may be doing a lot more than other jurisdictions,
we need to think of this as a European Union-wide issue and we
need to be sharing some of the best practice that we developed
after Piper Alpha and so on. They're drilling off the Netherlands
and Denmark as well as off the UK Continental Shelf, and this
is a trans-boundary issue.
Mr Naylor: In terms
of uniqueness, it's true that the weather in that part of the
Atlantic can be atrocious but the oil industry is quite well accomplished
at exploring for oil in very hostile conditions, whether in the
North Sea or other parts of the globe. If, heaven forbid, there
was a spillI sincerely hope there never will bethe
weather would act as a force to assist with the breakup and eventual
dispersal of the oil. So in some ways the atrocious weather conditions
can assist. I think the point about the depth of the well is obviously
that, as was shown with Macondo, it takes much longer to resolve
the problem if you're in deeper water, purely because of issues
of accessibility, distance and so on. But I'm not, by any means,
an expert on the oil exploration industry.
Picking up on the point that Susie mentioned
in relation to trans-European co-operation, I think it's worth
bearing in mind that that the model of oil spill response that
the MCA has developed, as described in our national contingency
plan, does have the ability to, and in fact would, involve other
member states within Europe under what we call the Bonn agreement.
That is an agreement among all European member states that border
the North Sea to work together, to lend assistance and to really
make best endeavours to assist other European member states when
they have a problem. Similarly, in relation to Norway, we have
an agreement called the Norbrit Agreement, which in many ways
is a mirror of the UK's national contingency plan and establishes
a very clear boundary and clear communication and command and
control arrangements for a spill in UK waters that might affect
Norway or vice versa. So, to that extent I think it's probably
fair to say that we've got quite a good model of co-operation
within Europe and indeed with Norway.
Q212 Sir Robert Smith:
Just on the EU role, there is a lesson from the fishing industry.
The model that Mr Naylor outlined is a better model than maybe
the EU-wide model because Czechoslovakia, Poland and Austria
don't necessarily have much interest in what's happening in the
North Sea whereas those countries that live and breathe and work
around the North Sea do. So what we're trying to achieve in the
fishing industry is regional management again, which may be one
we should stick to for this.
Mr Naylor: I suppose
I use the term "EU" loosely. More correct would probably
be to say those members of the EU with whom we have a common interest
within the area where we operate, rather than the EU per se.
Q213 Dr Whitehead:
Mr Naylor, you mentioned the possibility, heaven forbid, of a
blowout. The Shetland region has not just rougher weather throughout
the year but very strong currentsunlike in the Gulf of
Mexico. How would those particular circumstances affect oil spill
Mr Naylor: Well,
they go to the very heart of the principles that would underlie
a response to an oil spill because the first thing that we would
look to do is model the expected dispersion of oil as it came
to the surface. That obviously needs to take account of aspects
such as wind and weather but also aspects such as drift. That
would then be verified in the early stages of responding to the
spill by mobilising equipment towards the scene of the problem
by surveillance. We have a surveillance aircraft that is on short
readiness to fly out. It is fitted with a number of sensors including
sea-surface radar which can paint a very clear picture of what's
on the surface of the sea, coupled with satellite imagery, particularly
the satellite imagery that emerges from what's called the clean
sea net. The modelling that we would do, coupled with our observation
of what was happening in reality, would then give us a very clear
steer about what was happening to this oil as it came to the surface,
where it was likely to go and hence what our response strategy
needed to be.
Dr Wills: We have
much better surveillance capacity than we used to have. We can
see where the oil is going. We still can't do anything about it.
The coastline of the Shetland Islands, if you go to every bay
and around every little island, is 1,600 miles. It varies from
salt marsh to some of the highest cliffs in the United Kingdom.
Much of it is, to all intents and purposes, inaccessible to spraying
equipment. There is no way you could contain or clean up a significant
amount of oil and I don't think the Committee should be under
any illusion about this. We do have plans, very detailed plans.
There are some for inshore and for sheltered harbours like Sullom
Voe, which have worked very well. But none of the kit would work
in the open Atlantic.
Q214 Dr Whitehead:
But in the case of Macondo, the eventual solution took three and
a half months and involved a relief well being drilled. Arguably,
the effort to clean up the oil prior to drilling the relief well,
putting the cement in and capping the well were pretty ineffective,
but clearly the relief well was effective. So if a relief well
were required to be drilled, are there sufficient rigs in the
area and would the same sort of circumstances apply to the drilling
of a relief wellwhich after all I think started only a
fortnight after the blowout in the Gulf of Mexicoor would
there be particular difficulties with that?
Dr Wills: I imagine
there would, as there were in northern Australia in a recent,
very well publicised spill, or there would be in a blowout that
went on for a long time. We haven't had a prolonged blowout in
the North Sea since Ekofisk and that was only seven days until
it was stopped.
Q215 Gemma Doyle:
Taking the issue of environmental legislation at an EU level,
do you think there are problems with the current legislation and,
if so, what changes would you like to see?
Ms Wilks: Can I
just respond to that and also respond to Robert's point about
the dangers of EU intervention? Obviously, we wouldn't want to
see something like the disaster of the common fisheries policy
coming out of a call for extra EU action. Nobody wants to see
the EU coming in with some kind of lowest common denominator or
a one-size-fits-all policy. However, there is capacity within
DG Energy and DG Environment to assist with a forum for best practice
sharing and looking at whether some kind of minimum technical
standards or procedural standards are necessary; capacity for
assisting with inspections, and capacity for working on research
and development outcomes and training of rig personnel or national
inspectors. Given the rapidly changing technologies and the new
environments that we're going into, and what we were saying before
about the need to predict some of the dangers rather than just
respond to things that have already happened, we need to use all
of that capacity and take advantage of it. We could go in there
and share best practice and take what assistance we can because,
while our system might be better than many, it's still not perfect
and there's still room for improvement.
Your question was about what I would like to see
in terms of different legislation or amendments to current legislation.
My main concern is with the liability system and the absence of
any regulatory framework or any clear, consistent and reliable
regulatory framework for determining liability and compensation
arrangements in the case of a spill. So we have the European environmental
liability directive, but it is likely to be of limited application
in the case of a big spill in European waters and, as a matter
of UK law, there's nothing to fill that gap. So I'd like to see
something done about liability.
Q216 Gemma Doyle:
Do the rest of the panel agree with that?
Dr Wills: Yes,
I couldn't disagree with that. There is a good precedent. The
European Marine Safety Agency now based in Lisbon is trying to
do much the same for tanker traffic and for shipping standards
Mr Naylor: I think,
from the point of view of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency,
I can probably do no more than to remind members of the organisation's
mission which simply is, "Safer Lives, Safer Ships and Cleaner
Seas". That's why we exist. So we would endorse anything
that has the effect of helping to keep the seas cleaner.
Q217 Dan Byles:
I'm interested in touching further on the liability regime. One
of the things that raised a lot of eyebrows about the Gulf of
Mexico spill was the sheer cost involved once an incident has
happened. I think it is probably fair to say that a smaller company
than BP with less deep pockets would not have been able to cope
with that on their own. Do you think that the entire international
liability regime, as it is stands, is fit for purpose for this
sort of incident?
Ms Wilks: No, is
the short answer. No, it's not; it's far from being fit for purpose.
While the US has not been so strong on prevention, a lot tougher
on liability, which probably comes as no surprise. There's no
equivalent to that in the EU or in the UK specifically. There
are international conventions dealing with oil pollution liability
and compensation for tanker traffic, but no equivalent for offshore
installations. The problem with the environmental liability directive,
without going into too much detail, is that it only responds to
very particular kinds of environmental damageso the most
relevant to this scenario is probably biodiversityspecies and
habitatsand it responds only to specifically legally protected
habitats and species, and then only if the damage is significant
enough, which is quite a high threshold of adversity. So the chances
of it providing a complete regime are pretty slim.
There is, of course, the OPOL Voluntary Industry
Scheme but the limit of that is $250 million and it's not enough,
in my view, given what we now know about how much Macondo has
cost. Also it's a voluntary scheme and at the moment all the drillers
on the UK Continental Shelf are a member of it, but they don't
have to be. Also the fact that it is voluntary means that it has
no legal footing. There is no legal control over it. So basically
the company that has caused the damage and should be paying the
claim is also deciding on the value of the claim and deciding
whether the kind of damage that has been caused falls for coverage
under the rules of this particular scheme. So the OPOL scheme
covers direct pollution damage. There's a whole set of legal principles
about what constitutes direct versus indirect damage and it is
debatable whether some of the widespread ecological effects that
you can see and that Jonathan has talked about would qualify as
direct damage according to the oil company that is going to be
paying for it. So we need to have that system on a legal footing.
Q218 Dan Byles:
For my own information and for the rest of the panelI genuinely
don't know thisthe independent competent persons, do they
have any liability? If they investigate and sign off a well and
there is a subsequent incident, is there any liability that comes
back to them?
Ms Wilks: That's
an interesting question. I think you would probably have to show
some sort of negligence, just as a matter of regular tort law.
If they had been negligent and the oil company had relied on what
they said and there was, therefore, a loss
Dan Byles: But there is
no direct clear liability link?
Ms Wilks: There
is no strict liability mechanism, no.
Dr Wills: On that
point, Det Norske Veritasthe Norwegian ship inspection
company which also inspects platformssigned off the motor
tanker Braer in January 1993 and said she was okay to go to sea,
despite the fact that her main steam pipe had just been repaired
without being physically inspected by an inspector. DNV suffered
no loss and there was no liability. The government picked up most
of the tab.
I'd like to refer to the point raised by Susie and
one of the Members just now about the extraordinary costs of oil
spills. Shetland Islands Council, which I have the honour to be
a member of, operates the Sullom Voe Oil and Gas Terminal.
It's the largest export terminal in Europe and our Head of Ports
and Harbours just yesterday produced some rather interesting figures
in connection with the loss of the emergency towing vessel. This
shows that in the Fair Isle Sea area the cost to the UK economynot
to Shetlands economyper tonne of crude oil spilled is something
like £1,600. So you could basically multiply any numbers
by 1,600. It is a very interesting paper, far too detailed to
go into here. But if you are interested, sir, I could leave it
with the Committee Clerk. You might wish to consider it.
Chair: Thank you.
Q219 Laura Sandys:
Just picking up from Dan's points and your inputs on this, one
of the things that really concerns me is the issue of how we get
compensation through the system. If you look at BP's response,
in many ways their immediate response was much more to do with
their reputation with the US and ensuring that the US Government
were looking at them in a little bit more of a benign way than
previously. If they hadn't had those interests in the US, the
matter would have ended up in court between all the different
parties. Now we are getting these very, very large investments,
multiple partners, all looking to blame each other through the
courts. How can we structure a process where compensation would
be not necessarily immediate but speedy; where people would not
have to spend five, 10 or 15 years in the courts before, let's
say, communities got their compensation? How do we structure something
like that to bring security to the communities that might be impacted?
Ms Wilks: The US
system has its problems, as I understand. I don't know if you've
come across the Environmental Liability Superfund. It is a system
of comprehensive and strict liability, by which I mean liability
regardless of fault, where you identify any "potentially
responsible party"that is how they phrase it. So the
issue of the contractual arrangements between the driller and
the rig contractor, for example, is irrelevant to getting the
compensation paid to the people who have been damaged. So it is
a joint and several system; any potentially responsible party
can wind up liable for the entire loss and then it is for the
companies to wrangle it out between them. So that is a possibility;
that is one example. I would suggest that a liability regime like
that would and should have a pretty strong preventive effect as
well in terms of risk management.
Q220 Christopher Pincher:
On that same point, in the UK, unlike the United States, you cannot
claim any money for environmental damage. After the Exxon Valdez,
some communities received compensation which they then used, for
example, to purchase areas of pristine forest to prevent it being
clear-cut and this was seen as an environmental compensation.
That isn't possible in this country because you can kill as many
gannets as you like; they're not worth anything.
Ms Wilks: Yes,
so the environmental liability directive is supposed to provide
for remedial measures, not for property damage, but for environmental
damage. If you destroy X number of sea birds, you have to provide
some kind of ecologically sound compensation for that, not just
a monetary payment.
Q221 Christopher Pincher:
Thanks, Chair. My question is directed specifically at Dr Wills,
as you are on site, as it were. I suppose there is a tension,
hopefully a creative one, on Shetland between a hugely enriching
business on your doorstep and one that poses very significant
environmental risks and you have alluded to some of them very
eloquently. I wonder if you can tell us what the perception is
of the oil and gas industry among the islanders?
Dr Wills: Well,
it got off to a bad start. In 1978 the 12th tanker spilt 1,100
tonnes of fuel oil, which killed more birds than the 85,000 tonnes
from the Braer. It was a different kind of oil. Then the industry
realised that it had a PR problem and a big one and, in good faith,
it came to the council and the MCA and other bodies concerned
and said, "How can we improve this?" As a result, we
received a tanker traffic control system, which at that time was
the best in the world. The entire process is based on stopping
things happeningyou can clean up in a harbour, but you
can't clean up outside a harbourand we have been very impressed
with the industry, and particularly with BP. Companies can do
it if they want to and if they have to.
We regard BP on Shetland Islands Counciland
I am sure I do here speak for most councillorsas a partner
and an honest partner who will do things that we require them
to do for the health of the environment. We've seen in Shetland
BPas belatedly in Alaskahas realised that looking
after the environment is very good business for them and the public
relations costs of spills, in the days of electronic media, are
quite catastrophic. They are much more serious than they were
in 1978 because not many people heard about our oil spill then.
That was in the days when only the industry had fax machines.
By 1993, when we had the Braer, everybody had a mobile phone and
a few people had email.
But nowadays the damage from that kind of PR disaster
goes around the world in seconds and we have found that BP and
its partners at the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal are capable and willing
to have a successful and clean offshore oil and gas industry.
Now, this refers to pipelines and to tankers. We haven't had any
pipeline problems and we've had very few tanker problems. The
big tanker problem we did have was a tanker that wasn't subject
to the rules of our oil terminal. The rules in Sullom Voe are
good international standards but they are enforced by clauses
in commercial contracts. So when you have a tanker and you go
to pick up a cargo of oil at Sullom Voe, you have to agree in
writing that you will observe all these extra standards and this
is enforced by the industry's own commercial clauses in their
own commercial contracts. When you bring the insurance industry
into it, of course, that's where you have real clout. The insurance
industry could massively increase offshore standards tomorrow.
Q222 Christopher Pincher:
Can you quantify the benefits to the Shetland Islands of the industry?
How many people are employed, directly or indirectly, by it?
Dr Wills: Jobs
and contracts in the terminals are worth £50 million to £60
million a year to a local community of 22,000 people. We have
trust funds which have been built up by a very tiny levy on the
price of each barrel of oil passing througha very tiny
levy, a fraction of half a per cent.and I think we have
£175 million in
a charitable trust that is for the use of inhabitants for charitable
purposes. There is also a reserve fund that the council operates
from being the port operator. Again, it is a small proportion
of the total. I think we have currently £80 million
in the reserve fund. These are small sums to the oil industry,
but they are big sums to a small community and they have been
earned over the past 34 years because the industry recognised
very early on that to be a real partner, not just a paper partner,
it had to take the concerns of the local fishing industry and
the local wildlife tourism industry into account. The one thing
you may not know is that oil spills kill a lot of sheep because
sheep in coastal areas eat seaweed and if it gets oiled and they
eat it you have to destroy them, usually. There are all sorts
of things you don't think about when an oil spill happens and
I've seen enough of them; so I don't want to see anymore.
Q223 Dr Whitehead:
The question I want to ask this morning is a question on the West
of Shetland's environment and ecology and also the environment
of the islands themselves and this is a particular question, perhaps,
to Dr Wills. Do you think overall the knowledge that we have of
how the systems, particularly on the West of Shetland seabed,
work and the particular nature of the continental shelf marine
environment in that part of the world means that we have to do
a lot more work on understanding that before one might seriously
go into deep sea drilling in the way that has been described?
Dr Wills: We are
just starting to find out what is going on down there. It is very
new science. When I was born, I will not say when, we didn't know
anything. We didn't even know there was a mid-Atlantic ridge.
Now we know a lot more about the topography of the seabed; we
know a lot more about the ecology. We've discovered there are
corals down therecorals that don't need light and don't
co-exist with a plant. So there are large deposits of coral down
there. We're learning all the time. Thanks to the oil industry's
own researches, we've learnt a lot, but you're undoubtedly right
that there's a great deal more that we have to learn. As long
as the industry operates safely, that ecology will not be damaged.
The question is whether the commercial pressures on the people
working out there are so great that they won't or can't follow
their own procedures? That is my worry.
Q224 Dr Whitehead:
Are there, in your viewand indeed in any of the panel's
viewparticular circumstances of the ecology and the environment
West of Shetland that might cause one to say that, over and above
what we know about best endeavours in safety procedures, other
issues need to be taken into account that are specific to the
West of Shetland further precautions need to be thought about?
Dr Wills: Of course.
The Precautionary Principle suggests we should "gang warily"
as they say in Scotland and the industry themselves have told
us, from their scientists' research, that where normally you expect
the variety and the numbers of animals to decline as you go into
deeper water, West of Shetland they do not. They get richer and
we're still exploring that. So I'm not technically competent to
say whether there should be a moratorium on deep-sea drilling.
You will be, by the time you have heard your evidence, but I would
err on the side of caution.
Ms Wilks: Briefly,
again on the liability question, I just want to add that, the
current liability regime that we have just discussed relies on
protected habitats and protected species. Marine areas currently
lag way behind terrestrial areas in terms of designation of protected
sites and we're discovering new marine species so they can't all
be on the protected species list yet. So, the precautionary principle
becomes particularly important against that background.
Q225 Sir Robert Smith:
Isn't it important to remember, though, that we are not just starting
drilling West of Shetland. We have been drilling West of Shetland
for some time, and we are producing West of Shetland?
Dr Wills: That's
true, but we are only just beginning to understand the ecology
of the seabed down there and what goes on underneath the seabed.
We have a very limited understanding of what goes on in the plankton
and deep water planktonthe zooplankton.
Q226 Chair: Just to conclude;
Mr Naylor, is it your view that the oil spill response in the
UK is more focused on tanker spills than well blowouts?
Mr Naylor: That
is not my view. My view is that the plans we have, which have
been developed over so many years now, based on our experience
of dealing with spills, originated back, I suppose, in the days
of the Torrey Canyon. It is true to say that many of the spills
that we have had to deal with have been as a result of transportation-related
spills, whether from tankers or of fuel from ships. But, nevertheless,
as I mentioned before, the principles of dealing with an oil spill
pay little regard to the origin of the oil. The principles of
dealing with it are the same and so, to that extent, I would say
that the plan is not shipcentric. It is unfortunately the case
that we have to deal with many more incidents of oil from ships
than we do oil from the offshore industry. The record of the offshore
industry, in terms of calling on us to manage any consequences
from its activities, is much better.
Dr Wills: That
may or may not be true, but how do we know if there has been a
Mr Naylor: It's
self-inspection and self-reporting.
Dr Wills: I don't
know if there's a spill going on offshore today and I wouldn't
know unless the spiller told me.
Chair: Well, it depends
how big it is.
Mr Wills: Yes,
there are lots of small ones every day; I know thata few
gallons here and there.
Chair: Okay. Well, thank
you all very much for coming in.
1 Note from the witness: "The council only
runs the port. The terminal is operated by BP on behalf of a consortium
of many oil and gas companies." Back
Note from witness: "The total was £178 million
on 22 October 2010" Back
from witness: "The total
was £90.3 million on 22 October 2010" Back