Norway Working on Zero Discharge Policy

By 2005, discharges of oil and environmentally hazardous chemicals from the oil and gas activities on the Norwegian Shelf must be significantly reduced. The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT), the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) and the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) have agreed on goals and a schedule for the work on zero discharges.

The term "zero discharges" was introduced in the Storting White Paper on environmental policy for sustainable development (Storting White Paper No. 58 (1996-1997). It has since been the object of both discussion and interpretation.

On Friday, 25 April 2003, the Government presented a more precise definition of the zero discharge goal in the Storting White Paper on the Government's environmental policy and the environmental state of the realm (Storting White Paper No. 25 2002/2003).

An advisory cooperative group composed of representatives of SFT, NPD and OLF, the so-called Zero Discharge Group, has worked to concretize the zero discharge goal for 2005.

On Monday, 28 April 2003, the Zero Discharge Group presented its conclusions and plans for continued work. The Group's conclusions and plans concur with the Government's recent amplifications concerning the zero discharge goal.

The zero discharge goal applies immediately to new developments while existing fields must achieve the goal by the end of 2005.

The Zero Discharge Group is of the opinion that a literal interpretation of the zero discharge target for all types of discharges is neither environmentally optimal nor feasible under the current framework conditions.

The parties have placed emphasis on ensuring that the goal can be achieved within acceptable frameworks as regards environmental risk, safety and economy. This means that field-specific technological solutions are required.

Today, the largest discharges of oil from the petroleum activities come from the discharge of produced water. In addition to oil, a number of chemicals are discharged, both in connection with cleaning the produced water and from drilling. There are three main sources of discharge of environmentally hazardous substances:

  • Environmentally hazardous chemicals that are added in the processes
  • Environmentally hazardous substances that are pollutants in the chemicals
  • Naturally occurring environmentally hazardous substances in produced water

The approach and measures required to achieve zero discharges in the three groups will be different.

The operating companies have worked systematically for many years to reduce the discharges to sea to a minimum. Nevertheless, the zero discharge requirement means that efforts must be intensified with regard to developing and implementing new techniques that remove or minimize discharges of environmentally hazardous substances to the sea.

By the summer of 2003, the operating companies must report on the progress they have made with their measures to satisfy this requirement. This will be a milestone in the zero discharge work, and will form the basis for the authorities' assessment of the operating companies' efforts. The reporting will also be important for SFT in connection with assessment of orders or other policy instruments designed to achieve the goal of zero discharges.

The zero discharge report presents proposed minimum criteria for the 2003 reporting to ensure that the reports from the operating companies are comparable.

Cost and environmental effectiveness will be key elements for the operators when selecting zero discharge measures. Therefore, documentation of costs will be a central element in the reporting. However, a detailed review requires considerable work, and the cost estimates will also have varying degrees of uncertainty.

There is substantial variation between the fields on the Norwegian Shelf as regards the possibilities of implementing effective zero discharge measures.

Older fields with significant water production and old technology face the greatest challenges. New fields that are tied in to existing fields are also a problem. It often proves difficult to implement zero discharge measures for these so-called satellite fields because the technology on the main field is limited.

The zero discharge report provides an overview of technical solutions that have been established or are being developed on the Norwegian Shelf.

The selection of technical solutions shall be based on an evaluation of potential solutions in each individual case. Based on an overall assessment, the operating companies must implement the measures that provide the greatest contribution towards stopping the discharge of environmentally hazardous substances and

reducing the risk to the environment from discharges by the end of 2005. Preconditions vary from field to field, and all installations on the Shelf must therefore establish their own objectives.

The discharges of added environmentally hazardous chemicals have been sharply reduced in recent years. The same is true of the content of environmental toxins, environmentally hazardous and potentially environmentally hazardous substances in the offshore chemicals used. This is the result of a proactive attitude on the part of the authorities, operating companies and many suppliers.

Remaining challenges include environmental toxins that are pollutants in products and naturally occurring chemical substances that are discharged with produced water.

Work is underway on many alternative solutions. Reduced water production, injection or improved cleaning of produced water are just a few of many potential measures than can contribute to achieving the objective of zero discharges to sea from the petroleum activities.

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