Norway's PSA to Review Barents Sea Drilling Program

The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) will soon be receiving important applications concerning the petroleum activities in the Barents Sea. A potential consent for exploration drilling in the northern areas is conditional on the industry documenting that consideration for people, the environment and material assets has been carefully complied with in all phases of the activities.

In connection with the planned activities in the Barents Sea, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway will receive an application for Acknowledgement of Compliance (AoC) for the semisubmersible, Eirik Raude, which is planned for use in the exploration activities in the north.

In addition, we will receive applications for consent for three exploration drilling activities in the Barents Sea.

The PSA cooperates with the SFT and the Directorate for Health and Social Affairs on a comprehensive regulation of the petroleum supervision on the Norwegian shelf. The PSA coordinates this collaboration.

"Together with other authorities involved we will assess the companies' plans for petroleum activities in the Barents Sea. The companies must document that they are able to comply with the regulatory requirements for health, safety and the environment," PSA Director Magne Ognedal emphasizes.

The same HSE regulatory requirements
The HSE regulatory requirements for the petroleum activities are functionally designed, i.e. that the requirements for a proper health, safety and environmental level is the same for all petroleum activities on the Norwegian shelf. Also the supervision is systematic and based on risk.

This means that the companies must adapt the choice of installation, equipment, production methods, management systems, barriers and emergency preparedness to specific activities in defined areas.

The Barents Sea is inter alia characterized by large distances, lack of infrastructure, polar nights and a tough climate.

Special consideration for the environment and fisheries in the northern areas has also been imposed on the companies. Among other things, the Government presupposes that all petroleum activities in the Barents Sea are to be based on zero discharges to sea from drilling and well operations during normal operations. The exception is drilled cuttings and drill fluid from the top hole section, which can normally be released to the seabed.

"These are factors that will demand particular attention when the authorities process applications for consent to activities in the Barents Sea," Magne Ognedal emphasizes.

AoC application for Eirik Raude
Statoil has signed a contract with Ocean Rig for chartering the semisubmersible Eirik Raude for use in the Barents Sea.

The rig will be available to both Statoil and Norsk Hydro through the collaboration project Nobales, which is a forum for operators of production licenses in the Barents Sea. Eirik Raude cannot, however, be used as a drilling installation on the Norwegian shelf until the rig owner has obtained an Acknowledgement of Compliance (AoC) for the installation.

The Acknowledgement of Compliance (AoC) is an advisory statement from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway to the rig owner to the effect that the mobile installation's technical condition, the applicant's organization and management system have been assessed to be in compliance with relevant Norwegian offshore regulatory requirements. On January 1, 2004 the AoC scheme was made mandatory for mobile drilling installations.

The rig owner (Ocean Rig) sent the AoC application to the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway on June 14th. Normal processing time for an AoC application is three months.

According to the agreement between Ocean Rig and Statoil, Eirik Raude will first be used for drilling on the Troll field in November this year before the installation is moved north to complete the planned activities in the Barents Sea.

Application for consent for exploration drilling
Nobales plans to use Eirik Raude for three exploration drilling activities in the Barents Sea in this round; a Norsk Hydro well (Area C/PL 225) and two Statoil wells (Area F/PL 202 and Area G).

According to Nobales the consent applications for the three wells will be submitted on mid September, -October and -November respectively. The PSA normally calculates a processing time of four weeks per consent application (maximum nine weeks including consideration of any appeal made against a decision).

If consent for the applications for exploration drilling is granted, Nobales plans to implement the first drilling activities in the Barents Sea in December 2004. The nest two drilling activities will then be implement in January/February and March/April.

This schedule is provisional and may be changed.

Applications in accordance with requirements for environmental documentation

The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT) will follow up the Pollution Act and process documents concerning the requirements for the external environment, including emission/discharge applications and the companies' analysis of environmental risk and emergency preparedness/oil spill response in connection with exploration activities.

According to Nobales, environmental documentation related to the first planned exploration drilling activity in the Barents Sea (Norsk Hydro - PL225) will be submitted to the SFT in mid-June. Submission of environmental documentation for the other planned wells is planned for September of this year.

The SFT sends the environmental documentation for a consultation round, with a deadline of about eight weeks. The SFT calculates a processing period of about 13 weeks, but in the event of an appeal this will depend on the processing by the Ministry of the Environment.

Application for consent - Snøhvit and Albatross
In addition to the applications concerning exploration drilling in the Barents Sea, Statoil is applying for consent for drilling and completion of 10 wells on Snøhvit and Albatross.

The consent applications for all petroleum activities in the Barents Sea must be viewed in together, inter alia because the mobile installation to be used on the Snøhvit field, Polar Pioner, will be considered to be a relief rig for Eirik Raude and thus be part of the emergency preparedness for the planned exploration activity.

The PSA received the consent application for the activities on Snøhvit/Albatross last week and is well under way in processing it.

The SFT's consultation round for Statoil's emission/discharge application in connection with drilling and well operations on Snøhvit was concluded on 1 February, while the consultation round for the environmental risk and emergency preparedness analysis was concluded on 16 April. The environmental documentation and consultation statements are now being considered by the SFT.

Coordinated decisions
The responsible authorities (Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, Norwegian Pollution Control Authority and the Directorate for Health and Social Affairs) process the individual parts of a consent application with associated documents/applications in accordance with their areas of responsibility.

The conclusions reached by the authorities will be communicated in coordinated decisions.