* EU exec drops call for temporary ban on deepwater drilling
* Suggests EU countries consider suspending new licensing
* Calls for overhaul of licensing and liability regimes
(Adds detail, background)
By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS, Oct 12 (Reuters) - The European Commission has softened its call for a moratorium on oil drilling in deep water, an EU document showed on Tuesday.
The call was a response to BP’s accident in the Gulf of Mexico, but the idea has been rebuffed by the European Union’s parliament and by Britain, the home of the EU’s biggest oil explorers.
A draft seen by Reuters last week called on EU governments to implement a drilling ban, but the final version of the plan now says it is a decision best made in national capitals.
“While any decision to suspend offshore drilling operations is left to the discretion of member states, the Commission reiterates its call upon the member states to rigorously apply a precautionary approach in the licensing of new complex oil or gas exploration operations...until the European offshore safety regimes have been assessed in light of the Deepwater Horizon accident,” said a final version of the plan, seen by Reuters.
Meanwhile, EU countries should “examine whether a suspension of such licensing is needed”, the document added.
EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger will announce the plan on Wednesday, arguing that Europe’s current regulations for offshore exploration cannot cope with an industry that is drilling further and further offshore in deep, rough waters.
“Such a fragmented regime may not provide an adequate response for the risks posed by the evolution of offshore oil and gas industrial activities,” the plan says.
An overhaul of licensing and the liability regimes are key objectives in the strategy.
But any legally binding proposals that emerge from the review would need to go before the EU parliament for debate and would need approval from all 27 EU member states before taking effect.
“The licensing regime needs to be backed up by an unequivocal liability regime which must include adequate financial security instruments to cover major incidents,” said the draft.
During licensing, companies would have to prove the “safety case” for each operation and demonstrate the company’s ability to prevent and deal with crises.
They might also have to prove their financial ability to handle the consequences of unforeseen events, possibly via insurance schemes or risk-coverage instruments. (Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Anthony Barker)