Kiran Stacey Chevron to start UK deepwater drilling

An analyst commented to me this week:

Will the oil industry change in the wake of the BP oil spill? I doubt it. There may be some changes on the fringes but most people expect to see business continue as normal.

Today we have the first signs of a return to “business as normal” with the news that the UK energy department has agreed to let Chevron begin deepwater drilling off the Shetland coast. This is the first new project to be agreed since the BP spill.

The news is not unexpected. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has always been clear that it would not follow the US approach and place a moratorium on deepwater drilling altogether. It has instead stressed the stricter safety regulations in the UK put in place after the Piper Alpha rig exploded in 1988 and said it would increase its inspections.

Decc argues that this is not quite “business as normal” and that the renewed emphasis on safety since the BP disaster would ensure such an accident would not happen here. A spokesman said today:

All lessons learnt from Macondo have been applied to this well and steps have been taken to prevent the specific failures on Macondo. Close scrutiny of the well will continue, by the health and safety executive, by Decc and by Chevron itself.

For some, however, the measures are not drastic enough. Greenpeace has said it is preparing to take legal action against the government to try to prevent the drilling at all. Others, such the German consultancy EnergyComment, have called for a complete ban on all offshore drilling around the world.

While the government and oil companies argue that lessons have been learned from the US disaster, campaigners fear we will probably never learn those lessons until something similar happens off British shores.