This chapter will first provide a broad overview of offshore activities in Europe as well as of the accidents that have occurred with offshore oil and gas installations. This will serve as a general background and is necessary for us to be able to assess the specific problem to which the legal regime should react. First, a number of general issues concerning offshore activities will be discussed, including the stakeholders involved and the importance of the offshore industry for Europe (2.1); then the location of installations and facilities in the European Union will be sketched (2.2), and an overview of major offshore accidents will be provided (2.3). A case-study approach will be used to discuss some recent offshore accidents in Europe (2.4), and specific attention will be paid to the Montara and Deepwater Horizon cases (2.5).
General Issues Concerning Offshore Activities
Terminology in Offshore Activities
Offshore oil and/or gas activities refer to the activities that are employed in offshore facilities (in contrast with onshore facilities) for the purpose of oil and/or gas exploration, exploitation and production. These offshore exploration activities often take place in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf, where exclusive jurisdiction is granted to the coastal state under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Offshore facilities employed during such activities may include offshore platforms (fixed or floating), offshore storage/loading systems, subsea facilities, wells, offshore pipelines, offshore drilling units and other associated offshore equipment, constructions and installations. Oil exploitation involves the following mining processes:
• Seismic exploration,
• Exploratory drilling,
• Field development,
• Construction and installation,
• Oil/gas drilling of production wells,
• Production/maintenance and
• Field abandonment/decommissioning.
These processes often involve different types of expertise. Because of this, many players are involved in oil exploitation operations. It is beyond the scope of this book to list all the potential actors involved, but in order to comprehend the laws and regulations that will be outlined in the coming chapters, it is important to take note of the difference between licensees, operators and contractors.