Oil Pollution Emergency Planning and Reporting 

For information on the impact of Brexit on oil and gas environmental legislation, please refer to the pdf document downloadable from the Home Page.

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:

New oil spill response guides have been launched by Oil & Gas UK. Four guides have been developed and added to an information ‘toolkit’ to aid offshore oil and gas operators with oil spill response implementation.  More information available here.

Prevention of fire and explosion, and emergency response on offshore installations Guidance (Third Edition) has been published here.  This Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) has been updated to reflect changes in the Offshore Installations (Offshore Safety Directive) (Safety Case etc) Regulations 2015 (SCR 2015).

New OPEP framework and templates published by HSE available here.

OMAR (then OSDR) Guidance on Inspections available here.

Revised Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Procedures re OPEPs following GoM:

As information has become available about the Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico, DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) has been considering its impact on the UK environmental regulatory regime. Operators are reminded that an OPEP prepared in accordance with the regulations should set out the “arrangements for responding to incidents which cause or may cause marine pollution by oil, with a view to preventing such pollution or minimising its effect”. The primary purpose of the OPEP is to inform the operator, so that they can implement a robust, effective and tested emergency response procedure. It is therefore the operator’s responsibility to ensure that the OPEP clearly identifies the potential release scenarios, the potential environmental impacts, and how they would respond to mitigate those impacts. DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) has issued a letter to the industry contained Guidance related to Environmental Submissions (December 2010) (PDF document) . This revised guidance applies to all exploration, appraisal and development drilling, or workover and intervention operations on producing wells. DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) provided further clarification on 27 May 2011, and DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) may require the following on a case-by-case basis, but in particular for new operators and or drilling contractors and/or rig to UKCS, and oil/condensate exploration, appraisal and development wells in West of Shetland, Moray Firth, deep water areas or HP/HT wells:

  • Confirmation and details of insurance provision including proof of OPOL membership including operations to stop or control the release of hydrocarbon in the event of a well blow-out e.g. capping device; clean-up costs associated with any spill (including worst-case) and remediation of pollution damage including liability to third parties.
  • Written statement that the operator has taken into account recommendations from the various reports into the Macondo incident.
  • Detailed information within the OPEP on access to a capping device and relief well drilling plans including systems/procedures and predicted time scales.
  • Onshore pre-consent inspection at operators premises.
  • Onshore pre-consent desktop emergency response exercise observed by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
  • Offshore pre-spud inspection within 21 days of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero approving the OPEP – this inspection will not be carried out until the crew and systems/procedures for the proposed activity are in place on the installation. If a pre-spud inspection is deemed necessary by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero other consents will not be issued until the pre-spud inspection has taken place and any issues are satisfactorily dealt with.
  • Offshore inspection after reaching the payzone.
  • Offshore inspection when drilling the payzone.

Operators are therefore advised to take the above possible requirements into account when planning and submitting applications in order to prevent delays. If information provided or notice of changes to plans/dates are insufficient, delays to the consents procedure may occur. For further guidance contact the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s Offshore Inspectorate at bst@beis.gov.uk.



Requirement for and Approval of OPEP: (Note – OSCP has been renamed Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP) under new DECC guidance currently out to comment). The International Convention on Oil Pollution, Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (OPRC), which has been ratified by the UK, requires the UK Government to ensure that operator’s have a formally approved Oil Pollution Emergency Plan in place for each offshore operation, or agreed grouping of facilities. Such approval must come from the appointed National Competent Authority. This is the MCA in the UK, but powers have been delegated to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero EDU-OED Environmental Inspectorate for offshore oil and gas operations. The Merchant Shipping Act 1995 allows the UK to implement the provisions of the OPRC Convention and because of this, the National Competent Authority was appointed under the Merchant Shipping (Salvage and Pollution) Regulations 1996. The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response) Regulations 1998 have also been created under the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. These regulations implement into UK law the oil spill planning requirements of the OPRC Convention.In addition to the requirements of The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response) Regulations 1998, there may be requirements for Oil Pollution Emergency planning through either block specific licence conditions or general requirements under licensing legislation as embodied in the Petroleum Production (Seawards Areas) Regulations 1988 and 1996. A specific licence may be required under conditions that require the preparation of an essential elements Oil Pollution Emergency Plan that relates to its proximity to environmentally sensitive areas.Note: DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) has been requesting additional information on a case by case basis following the GoM oil spill event (see Revised Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Procedures under the Legislation tab).
How to Apply: Under the requirements of the Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response) Regulations 1998, all completed Oil Pollution Emergency Plans must be submitted to the National Competent Authority for approval. In addition, Oil Pollution Emergency Plans required under the Block Licence must be formally approved to ensure that the specific requirements of the Block Licence, which are not included in the generic provisions of The Merchant Shipping (Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response) Regulations 1998, have been met. A procedure has been adopted regarding drilling operations which now allows operators to submit these activities as an appendix of an approved Offshore Field/Installation plan, however, the appendix is still subject to the two month consultation and review period. Due to the requirement to provide additional information, not generally included within the Onshore Plan and Offshore Field/Installation Plan, e.g. location of and drilling contractors’ representation within the Operations Control Unit (OCU). The appendix will always, where applicable, be approved under Emergency Pollution Control (EPC) legislation. An OPEP Regulatory Submission Sheet (Word document) must be submitted along with each OPEP submitted for approval. Please note that the Offshore Inspectorate will NOT process any OPEP’s unless this covering document has been included with the submission.
Who to Apply to: The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Oil and Gas Division, Aberdeen) has delegated powers for the regulation of offshore contingency planning and the granting of plan approval on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency is a statutory consultee. Plans should be submitted to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Oil & Gas Environmental Inspector Team. MCA Review of Oil Pollution Emergency Plans (OPEPs) has changed with immediate effect, this is due to the heightened interest on the OSIS modelling which can be best reviewed at MCA HQ. All future OPEPs submitted for consultation should be forwarded to MCA HQ in Southampton (Contact Details are below), the preference is for electronic copies via e-mail, however CDs and hard copies can be sent if necessary. Once an OPEP has been approved by the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the controlled copy of the OPEP should be sent as a hard copy or CD directly to the MCA office indicated in the Distribution List or copy holders list within the OPEP, not MCA HQ, and please do not send them as emails as the Operations Rooms do not have the capacity for storage. Email to: meor.meor@mcga.gov.ukContact details:Mr Neil Chapman Maritime & Coastguard Agency Counter Pollution & Response Branch Bay 2/11 Spring Place 105 Commercial Road Southampton SO15 1EGTel: 02380 329228
When to Apply:

All new offshore installations (i.e. those on or after 15 May 1998) including exploration and appraisal wells are required to have submitted an Oil Pollution Emergency Plan for formal approval at least 2 months before activities on the offshore installation commence. In some cases drilling may be covered by a platform OPEP. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has requested that industry take into consideration the implications of additional guidance post GoM when submitting an OPEP for approval in terms of time required for approval. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero may require to gain assurance that the provisions and arrangements detailed within their OPEP (see Revised Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Procedures under the Legislation tab for what the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero may require on a case by case basis) (or any other regulatory submission) are in place prior to or after approval is given. This is particularly the case for activities falling under the following categories, and additional time should be allowed for approval prior to the OPEP required date:

  • New operator, and/or drilling contractor and/or rig to UKCS
  • Oil/condensate exploration, appraisal and development wells West of Shetland or Moray Firth, deepwater or HP/HT
Initial Outcome on UKCS following the Deepwater Horizon Incident in the Gulf of Mexico:

Following the Deepwater Horizon Incident, DECC (now BEIS) and the HSE have taken a number of steps to review procedures in the UKCS in light of lessons learned. Steps taken include:

  • HSE review of safety regulatory regime on UKCS with conclusion that systems are robust. But recognise that sensible reinforcement of existing rigorous approach should be undertaken including increase in routine checks, increased level of peer review of well design assessments and basic well control assessment introduced for all MODU offshore inspections.
  • Establishment of Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) with strong support from HSE and BEIS (see the Performance Standards tab).
  • HSE internal Deepwater Horizon Advisory Group created to act as focal point for ongoing consideration of lessons learned
  • BEIS review of environmental and pollution response. Also concluded systems were robust but again recognised that sensible reinforcement was needed included doubling number of MODU environmental inspections by BEIS, increase in HSE/BEIS joint inspections of MODUs, all exploration/appraisal wells being reviewed/consented on a case by case basis and revised BEIS procedures for OPEPs (see the revised BEIS procedures under the Legislation tab).
  • Commitment by HSE/BEIS to fully review offshore regulatory systems once clear lessons emerge Gulf of Mexico
Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group:

Set up by BEIS and HSE as a result of reviews undertaken following the Deepwater Horizon incident in GoM. The Group objectives are to:

  • Review UKCS regulation and arrangements for pollution prevention and response
  • Assess the adequacy of financial provisions for UKCS response
  • Monitor and review findings from the Deepwater Horizon incident and facilitate implementation of pertinent recommendations
  • Establish active liaison with European and international regulatory, technical and industry bodies in order to share information and learning

The OSPRAG membership includes offshore operators, drilling contractors, BEIS, HSE, MCA, offshore trade unions, IADC and Oil & Gas UK.

Approval Prior to Dispersant Use: Any use of dispersants whether in shallow water (<20m) or in deep water must have the approval (including test spraying) of the licensing authority (MMO or Marine Scotland) before use. The only exception is in the case of force majeure, where a spill poses an immediate threat to human health or the safety of an installation.The licensing authority is the MMO in England/Wales and Marine Scotland in Scottish Waters.Guidance on approval of dispersants is provided in Annex 4 of the PON1 (Word document).The Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) Order 2011 and the Marine Licensing (Exempted Activities) (Scottish Inshore and Offshore Regions) Amendment Order 2012 make an exemption to the requirements of marine licensing under the Marine & Coastal Access Act 2009 for the use of marine chemical and marine oil treatment substances, where these are approved products. Prior approval of the licensing authority (MMO) and Scottish Ministers must be sought however if the substances are to be deposited below the sea surface or in water depths <20 m.
Reporting of Oil Spills:

A decision on whether to report a spill as an oil spill or chemical spill can be made depending on whether the substance spilt has been permitted under the Offshore Chemical Regulations 2002 (e.g. drilling fluids), in which case it should be reported as a chemical spill, or not (e.g. reservoir hydrocarbons, lube oils, diesel, etc.), in which case it should be reported as an oil spill.

See the Reporting requirements tab for more detail.

Where There is a Risk of Significant Pollution from an Oil Spill Incident: Where there is a risk of significant pollution from an oil spill incident BEIS will inform the Secretary of State Representative (SOSREP). The SOSREP has powers of intervention and may issue directions to contain or remove the pollution risk. If any directions issued have not been effective, the SOSREP can take any further action he feels necessary, including sinking or destroying all or part of an offshore installation or taking control of the installation.
Oil Spills: In the event of an oil or chemical spill, regardless of size, the operator is required to report the spill in accordance with the Petroleum Operations Notice No. 1 (PON 1 (Word document)). (See the Reporting Requirements tab). Guidance on the use and completion of the PON1 is also available here (Word document).In addition to the reporting of all oil spills, if the source of the oil spill is in doubt a sample of the oil/spilled material should be taken for analysis.
What to Report:

Accidental/Unplanned Discharges All accidental/unplanned discharges to sea of oil (including crude oil, diesel oil, lubricating oil and hydraulic oil) or chemicals (including OBM), regardless of volume, must be reported by PON1. Any third party spills or spills of unknown source must also be reported by telephone to HM coastguard, but the requirement to report these as ‘Known or Unknown Third Party PON1s has been withdrawn, as have PON 1 permitted discharge notifications.

Guidance on PON 1 reporting is available here. A PON1 must be submitted after any release to sea of oil or offshore chemical during offshore oil and gas activities and issued as soon as possible and within 6 hours of the release, or within the timeline specified by an approved permit.

OPRED and the HM Coastguard must be notified if the release fits any of the following criteria:

  • The release is > 1 tonne;
  • The release is within 40 km of the coast;
  • The release exceeds any specific telephone reporting threshold detailed in a relevant OPEP or approved Chemical or Oil Discharge permit and/or
  • It is the first report of an ongoing release (telephone HM coastguard only).

Any discharge that exceeds permit conditions must be reported using an OPPC Permit Non-Compliance (see compliance tab). Note: “oils” regulated under the Offshore Chemical Regulations 2002 (e.g. OBMs, base oil, SBMs etc.) must be reported on the PON1 as a chemical spill. Also see the Snippets tab.

How to Report: All accidental chemical spills should be reported to OPRED via the Integrated Reporting Service (IRS) on the UK Energy Portal with a PON 1 submission. If the IRS system is unavailable, the PON1 – Proforma word document should be sent to OPRED. The HM Coastguard should also be telephoned where the release is > 1 tonne, within 40 km of the coast, exceeds telephone reporting threshold within the OPEP or if this the first report for an ongoing release. Guidance for the submission of a PON1 is available here.
Who to Report to:

Immediately notify the nearest MRCC Coastguard Station by telephone, then confirm spill by faxing the completed proforma that is Annex 1 in the PON 1;Fax spill details (PON1) are to be sent to the Aberdeen MRCC Coastguard station, which is acting as a central distribution centre. Fax spill details (as detailed in Annex 1 of PON 1) to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Oil and Gas, Aberdeen); telephone the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero with details of spill if it occurred in an environmentally sensitive area, or within 25 miles of the coast, or is greater than 25 tonnes. Fax spill details (as required by Annex 1 in the PON 1) to JNCC; telephone JNCC with details of spill if it is (a) greater than 1 tonne and occurred in either an environmentally sensitive area or within 25 miles of the coast, or (b) is greater than 25 tonnes.Other specific reporting requirements will be detailed in the relevant Oil Pollution Emergency Plan. All measurements must be reported in the units requested on the form.

Communications for a Tier 3 pollution response exercise should be sent to bst@beis.gov.uk and communications for an ongoing pollution response incident should be sent to opredemergencyresponseinbox@beis.gov.uk

When to Report: All spills must be notified as soon as possible. The PON1 is utilised by relevant authorities as a pollution incident notification system and it is therefore imperative that, in addition to immediate telephone notification to the nearest Coastguard Station, early notification by PON1 Fax is given to provide effective response.  In this regard it is expected that under normal circumstances incidents be notified by Fax within 6 hours of an event being confirmed and/or identified. Notification should not be delayed in order to close out actions or confirm full details of the incident. Initial notification should occur with additional information being forwarded at a later time by updating the original PON1, if applicable.Where the spill/discharge is, or seems as though it may become, extensive in size (e.g. a blow-out, a fractured pipe or a damaged storage facility) there should be the earliest possible consultation with the nearest Coastguard Station and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. In case of an on going spill a daily report PON1 should be sent.
Non-Compliance: Non-compliance would constitute failure to report an oil spill/failure to report spill according to requirements of PON 1/oil spill plan/failure to respond to the spill using procedures laid out in the plan. Non-compliance would also include failure to prepare an oil spill plan that meets legal requirements. In case of non-compliance with reporting, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero are likely to prosecute. In case of non-compliance with oil spill planning, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will require a legal content/format oil spill plan to be prepared.
OPPC Regulations: It is an offence under these Regulations to fail to report an un-permitted discharge of oil. All un-permitted discharges, regardless of quantity must be reported to OPRED and other relevant authorities through the submission of a PON1 or OPPC NCN on the Integrated Reporting Service (IRS) on the UK Energy Portal. If the IRS is unavailable, the OPPC non-compliance form should be submitted to OPRED.
Failure to Comply with a Direction: Failure to comply with a direction given by the SOSREP under the Offshore Installations (Emergency Pollution Control) Regulations 2002 is an offence liable to an unlimited fine (£50,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland) and on conviction on indictment, to an unlimited fine.
Offshore Inspection: The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Offshore Oil and Gas Environment Unit Enforcement Policy sets out the general principles that Inspectors shall follow in relation to enforcement including prosecution.
Renewal of OPEP:

Oil spill reporting is required for every oil spill that reaches the sea. For oil spill plans, the following are the legal requirements for renewal:

  • A full review of the plan no later than 5 years after its submission.
  • Where major change occurs that could affect the validity or effectiveness of the plan then a new plan must be submitted, or amendments made to the plan, within 3 months of the change becoming known.
OPEP Guidance: All new Oil Pollution Emergency Plans, or OPEPs (previously OSCPs) subject to a 5 yearly review, and any updates made to existing OPEPs must be written in accordance with these Guidance notes (PDF document). Operators are encouraged to review and submit their existing OPEP in line with the the latest before their existing approval period expires. 
Approved Oil Spill Treatment Products: A list of oil spill treatment products approved for use in the UK, including name, nature, type and what they are approved for available here.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Environmental Alert (001/2014) – PON1 Reporting:

Issued by DECC (now the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) on 31 March 2014, this environmental alert (PDF document) highlights failures by a number of operators to comply with PON1 reporting requirements. Operators are reminded that in accordance with current reporting requirements PON1s must be reported within 6 hours to:

  • Aberdeen Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in addition to immediate telephone notification to the nearest MRCC Coastguard Station.
  • Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC); additional telephone notification is required to the Department for specific scenarios as detailed within the PON1 reporting guidance.
  • Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and any relevant Statutory Nature Conservation Body (SNCB) in accordance with installation oil pollution emergency plan arrangements.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero regularly issues environmental alert notices in order to raise awareness of any environmental issues on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS) so companies can respond appropriately. They are issued directly to Oil and Gas operators and published here.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Environmental Alert (001/2020) The OPRED out of hours incident reporting number, provided by the Meteorological Office, has been changed. The new number is 0330 135 0010. All Oil Pollution Emergency Plans (OPEPS) containing the previous Met number must be amended accordingly by the 31 March 2020. Available here.
Bonn Agreement Action Plan: The Bonn Agreement Action Plan, an ambitious strategy for improving the protection of the coastal and marine environment against pollution by oil and other harmful substances, has been adopted in Dublin, alongside a political commitment put forward in a ministerial “Dublin Declaration”. You can read More here (PDF document).
Consultation Outcome: OPPC and OCR Responses to the consultation on changes to OPPC and OCR Regulations are now available here.
Increased Department for Energy Security and Net Zero Inspections post Gulf of Mexico: DECC (now Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) has increased its inspection of drilling rigs and monitoring of offshore compliance and has asked a new oil industry group to report back on its findings on the UK’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills. A review has been carried out by DECC (now the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) officials which has found that the existing system is fit for purpose, but in light of the spill in the Gulf we are strengthening the regime further.
Marine Management Organisation – approved oil spill treatment products (June 2014): List of UK approved oil spill treatment products including the name, nature and type, and what they are approved for. Click here for more information.
Marine Management Organisation – How to use oil spill treatment products and equipment (June 2014): Information on spraying oil spill dispersants, different products and equipment, training, and keeping records. Click here for more information.
National contingency plan for marine pollution from shipping and offshore installations This is the second consultation seeking views on the national contingency plan for dealing with marine pollution from ships and offshore installations. The consultation is closed and the feedback is being analysed by MCA (link here).  The strategic overview is available here.
Oil pollution, contingency planning and response training courses (May 2014): A list of current MCA oil pollution, contingency planning and response training courses offered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, including booking forms, can be accessed here.
Oil Sampling Environmental Alert:

An environmental alert reports that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has advised the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero that a number of samples of oil that have been taken recently have highlighted issues with regard to the rationale for oil sampling and the method of collection and handling.

A number of recent oil samples provided to the MCA have been handled in such a manner that any analytical analysis of the sample would not be able to deliver a meaningful outcome in terms of confidence in what had been analysed. This environmental alert should act as a reminder to operators should there be a necessity sea surface oil samples, following any spill, to ensure the correct procedures are followed for the taking and forwarding of samples, many of which are detailed within respective OPEP.

Regulation (EU) 1406/2002 (OJ:L208/1/2002) establishing a European Maritime Safety Agency has been amended by Regulation 1625/2016  A European Maritime Safety Agency was established by this Regulation to ensure effective and uniform level of maritime safety and security and prevention of and response to marine pollution, from oil and gas installations and from ships. This amendment make provision for collaboration on coast guard functions across Europe.

Updated guidelines on Relief Well Planning for Offshore Wells (2nd Edition):

On 27 March 2013 Oil & Gas UK published updated guidelines on relief well planning for offshore wells. Planning for relief wells must prepared by Operators as part of the Oil Pollution Emergency Plan (OPEP) submitted to the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. The second edition comprises guidance for an expanded range of relief wells, including subsea wells.