North Sea oil spills soar: watchdog

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The number of North Sea oil spills soared in 2009/10, a British watchdog said on Tuesday as it warned the energy sector to "up its game".

Independent regulator the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the offshore oil and gas industry had been warned about its safety record as new statistics showed "unplanned hydrocarbon releases" up by more than a third year-on-year.

It comes as the industry faces heightened scrutiny worldwide in the wake of the recent massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I am particularly disappointed, and concerned, that major and significant hydrocarbon releases are up by more than a third on last year," Steve Walker, head of HSE's offshore division, said in a statement.

"This is a key indicator of how well the offshore industry is managing its major accident potential, and it really must up its game to identify and rectify the root causes of such events."

The HSE said that hydrocarbon releases jumped by 42 percent in 2009/10 compared with 2008/09.

The watchdog also reported a rise in major injuries suffered by workers in the North Sea offshore energy sector.

There were 50 major injuries reported in 2009/10 -- up by 20 on 2008/09 and higher than the average of 42 over the previous five years. No workers were killed during activities regulated by HSE for a third year running.

"We will continue to take a tough line on companies who put their workers at risk," said Walker.

"The challenge to improve safety will be ever greater as more offshore installations exceed their original design life.

"Our new inspection initiative will check safety management plans to ensure ageing is being taken into account, but the responsibility for getting safety right in the first place rests where it always has -- with the duty holders."

© 2010 AFP

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