More needs to be done to investigate the short and long term effects of oil spills on EU fisheries and the ecosystem, according to a new report.
The study found that while there is an inquiry following any big incident, after initial investigations there is not always an assessment of the long term effects on areas such as the eco-system and marine life.
The report The Impact Of Oil & Gas Drilling Accidents On EU Fisheries, also says lessons learned in the North Sea should be applied to the newer areas of oil and gas exploration such as the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Baltic.
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It urges the EU to liaise more closely with involved non-EU states to ensure those countries adopt the same stringent health and safety rules, response and compensation legislation as those that have been developed for the North Sea.
The study, presented to the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament on January 23, was conducted by Dr David Green and Dr Cristina Gomez of the University of Aberdeen.
Dr Green said: "Our report concluded that more needs to be done to look into both the short- and long-term effects of these spills on fisheries, fish species and the ecosystem.
"After any big incident there is an inquiry and it is very much in the public eye, but after the initial investigations, we found that scientific studies do not always investigate the long-term effects of e.g. spills on the eco-system and on marine life.
"We know a lot about the short term - estimates of fish numbers affected etc. - but we know relatively little about the duration and effects of oil in the system? How far does it spread? How long does it persist? How toxic is the oil? And does the system clean itself over time? Most research often focuses only on the event at the time and then interest fades without the funds to carry on further research studies.
"We currently do not know enough about the spread and persistence of oil pollution and chemicals in the environment or on fisheries and we need to know more about where the oil ends up, how toxic it is, and how long it will affect different fish species. "
The report found that there has been an overall decline in the number of offshore oil and gas accidents since the industry's birth, as well as a decline in the impact these accidents have on the environment and fisheries.
It notes that historically, tanker spills were the cause of the majority of oil spills in European waters, but this has declined as the result of more oil being transported through pipes, and the improvement in tanker safety features and technology.
Currently, fixed production units suffer the highest number of accidents, while among floating installations those for drilling have the highest risk.
It also mentions that although exceptional incidents such as oil rig blow outs and tanker spills have the largest short-term impact on the environment and on fisheries, small accidents have an unknown impact in the long-term.
The study also looked at the economic impact of oil and gas incidents on fisheries, which may have to close for a time or suffer from negative public perception.
After the Braer tanker grounding off Shetland in 1993 when 85,000 tonnes of oil were spilled, 40% of shellfish grounds were excluded for two years.
Dr Green said: "It is crucial that the EU looks to influence the legislation of non-EU countries in these areas regarding how they prevent accidents from happening, but also what action is taken when something does happen, as well as tackling issues such as responsibility and compensation. The procedures in place for the North Sea should be used as a template to follow in these expanding areas of exploration."