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More oversight for oil, gas drilling

Jason Michael - Irish Times

Minister of State for Natural Resources Conor Lenihan today announced new measures to increase oversight of oil and gas drilling in Irish waters in the wake of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Minister, who today visited the Kinsale gas platform off Co Cork, said he wanted to see conditions on rigs operating in the State's waters following the BP leak.

"While I am satisfied that all petroleum works carried out in Ireland, from prospecting to bringing the fuel ashore, are carried out to the highest international standards where health, safety and the environment are concerned we must always be sure," Mr Lenihan said in a statement.

The Minister said his department had therefore set up a Special Oversight of Well Operations - in addition to the new Petroleum Exploration and Safety Act recently been enacted by the Oireachtas.

Under the Special Oversight there will be more frequent onboard audits and inspections for routine or critical events. It will also be necessary to obtain verification to the department’s satisfaction again prior to drilling that equipment, systems and procedures are in place to allow for safe operations without polluting the environment.

It will also be necessary to secure verification before drilling that all personnel and equipment for any oil spill response identified in the company’s oil spill contingency plan are ready for rapid deployment.

Events in the Gulf of Mexico are also to be monitored by companies, with assessments on any lessons for Irish operations to be provided to the Department of Natural Resources.

Mr Lenihan noted the Special Oversight is to support the "rigorous implementation" of the rules and procedures and does not imply lack of compliance on the part of the operator. “Finding oil and gas in Irish waters has always been and will be a good news story for Ireland, for the Exchequer,” he said.

The new Petroleum Exploration and Safety Act confers responsibility for safety matters relating to upstream oil and gas exploration and production in Ireland on the Commission for Energy Regulation. The commission already has the safety function for downstream operations.