UK oil industry defends Atlantic drilling

Industry rejects NGO accusations of failure to comply with EU habitats directive

UK oil firms have defended their offshore drilling environmental record following accusations by Greenpeace that exploration in the Atlantic is destroying marine habitats and breaching EU habitat protection requirements. In a statement released yesterday, the UK Offshore Operators' Association (UKOOA) said the region was "neither pristine, nor seeing its 'first wave' of development, as claimed".

Greenpeace has stepped up its campaign to halt further oil exploration in the "Atlantic frontier" region north-west of the British isles since a court ruling last November that the UK should apply the 1992 EU habitats directive everywhere in an "exclusive economic zone" ranging 200 miles from the coast (ENDS Daily 5 November 1999).

Last weekend, Greenpeace activists occupied an exploration rig operated by Enterprise Oil to prevent it being towed to the Atlantic region. They were removed by police on Monday after Enterprise obtained an injunction. The firm is now claiming UK£1m (euros 1.64m) in damages, arguing that the exploration licence under which the rig was operating was granted in 1997, well before last year's court judgement.

Following these developments, Greenpeace and seven other UK environmental NGOs wrote to UK deputy prime minister John Prescott calling for an end to oil licensing in the Atlantic Ocean. The groups argued that oil drilling was "damaging to marine wildlife, bad for the climate and has little economic justification".

In its statement, however, UKOOA, claimed that "there is no evidence to suggest that oil and gas extraction and good environmental management are incompatible". It said that "regulations in place more than meet the requirements of the habitats directive," and added that 150 wells had already been drilled in the Atlantic region over 25 years with "no evidence to suggest damage to the environment".

Follow Up:
UKOOA, tel: +44 20 78 02 24 00, and statement; Greenpeace UK, tel: +44 20 78 65 81 00; Enterprise Oil, tel: +44 20 79 25 40 00.

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