Norway's PSA Says There Were Several Serious Incidents in 04

In the fall of 2004, there were a number of near-misses on the Norwegian shelf that, under slightly altered circumstances, could have had fatal consequences. "These incidents show how important it is to maintain a strong, continuous and long-term focus on health, safety and the environment", says Director-General of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), Magne Ognedal.

On November 28th, there was an uncontrolled well situation on the Statoil-operated Snorre A installation in the North Sea. No one was injured, but the potential risk of a major accident has led to the incident being characterized as one of the most serious ever on the Norwegian shelf.

"The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway is investigating the Snorre A incident, and we will not comment on the causes until our report is complete. However, we can confirm that the subsea gas blowout could have led to the loss of many lives as well as significant damage to the installation," says Ognedal.

Barely two weeks after the Snorre A incident, the mobile drilling rig Ocean Vanguard lost two of its eight anchor chains and tore off the riser. Twenty-three of the 86 crew members were evacuated during the course of the night. The incident on 14 December took place during drilling for Eni Norge on Haltenbanken, and the situation for the well area has still not been normalized. The PSA has started a separate investigation.

A third serious incident took place on 20 August as a consequence of the rupture of a gas pipeline from Jotun A. Gas flowed out into the sea and rose to the surface. The actual safety and environmental consequences of the incident were limited, but the PSA's investigation resulted in the issuance of two notifications of orders to the operator, ExxonMobil.

Positive developments
Although there were several serious incidents in 2004, it is also important to highlight the positive trends as we sum up the year in an HSE perspective. Most gratifying of all is the fact that there were no fatal accidents within the PSA's sphere of responsibility last year. There have been no accidents involving fatalities on the Norwegian shelf since 2002 (falling object on the Byford Dolphin and crushing injury in connection with a lifting operation on Gyda).

As part of the project "Trends in risk levels - Norwegian Shelf" (RNNS), the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway records and quality-assures data for a number of hazard and accident situations. The goal is to describe how the risk scenario develops from year to year in the activities, and the results are presented in annual reports.

Last year's figures will be presented on 26 April of this year, however, a preliminary review shows that the positive trend of a decline in the number of serious personal injuries has continued in 2004.

Moreover, fewer gas leaks were recorded in 2004 compared with previous years, but until the specific leaks have been evaluated in relation to volume emitted and potential damage, it is too early to say whether their total contribution to the overall risk of a major accident has been reduced compared with previous years.

Through the risk level project, the PSA has helped spur the industry to take a greater interest in underlying factors and governing mechanisms, as well as increased awareness of gas leaks, well kicks and damage to load-bearing structures on mobile installations. Our data indicates that this work pays off in positive results.

"We also use the results from RNNS to plan our audit activities. In 2004, for example, this meant a number of audit activities targeting the risk of gas leaks, major accidents and crane and lifting operations," says Magne Ognedal.

The Barents Sea and the PSA on land
As a consequence of the fact that parts of the Barents Sea were re-opened for year-round petroleum activities in 2004, the PSA considered applications during the year for consent for three exploration drilling activities to be performed during the winter. After a thorough consideration process, we concluded that the operators, Hydro and Statoil, can document that considerations for personnel, the environment and material assets will be safeguarded in a prudent manner throughout all phases of the exploration activity.

When the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway was established as a separate supervisory authority, its scope of authority was expanded to include supervision of safety, emergency preparedness and working environment at defined petroleum facilities on land, as well as associated pipeline systems.

"It is a challenge for us to handle the land facilities in such a way that the things that must and should be different are accepted so that we do not create unnecessary problems. At the same time, it is our experience, after one year as a supervisory authority for land facilities, that land-based industry can definitely learn from the management systems developed offshore. Among other things, the operator's supervisor responsibility is more developed offshore. Our investigations of accidents and other undesirable incidents at the land facilities have, among other things, revealed several cases where the lines of responsibility were not clear," says Ognedal.

Factors such as these will be addressed through the regulatory project which had its formal inception on 1 January 2005, with the goal of arriving at joint regulations for land and offshore activities from 1 January 2007.

Challenges in 2005
On January 1, 2005, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway could look back on its first year as a separate supervisory body, after having assumed responsibility for safety, emergency preparedness and working environment in the petroleum activities offshore, as well as for certain facilities on land.

"Our first year as an independent supervisory authority has been hectic, but exciting. Our main challenges have been in planning and implementing necessary audits offshore, building up our own expertise in relation to follow-up of petroleum-related land facilities and refineries and, not least, establishing our own organization that can function in an optimal manner in relation to the tasks delegated to us," summarizes Director-General Magne Ognedal.

Ognedal points to several challenges facing both the authorities and the industry that will require a high level of attention this year.

"The introduction of new technology such as eOperations means new ways of organizing the activities. Our task is to identify the challenges and consequences entailed by new forms of operation as regards the HSE area, and to ensure that the consideration for safe operations is always the first priority."

In part as a result of new technology, international oil companies have also organized themselves so that responsibility for operations no longer necessarily follows national borders.

"This development underlines the importance of even closer HSE cooperation between the supervisory authorities in the shelf countries. Therefore, the PSA has taken steps, such as initiatives vis-à-vis our colleagues in the United Kingdom, to achieve closer and more practical supervisory cooperation in 2005."

The system of Acknowledgement of Compliance (AoC) for mobile installations will be expanded to cover other mobile installations that are to participate in the petroleum activities on the Norwegian Shelf. Expansion of the AoC system will be a priority activity in 2005, and the work will take place in cooperation with the various parties in the industry. The goal is to implement the expansion with effect from January 1, 2006.

The industry has also indicated a high level of activity on the Norwegian Shelf in 2005, including a marked increase in the number of exploration wells to be drilled. It will be a challenge for the industry to ensure that these activities are conducted in a safe manner, including the use of qualified drilling rigs.

"This increase in activity also means that the PSA will consider far more applications for consent, e.g. for exploration drilling activity, compared with previous years. We must take this into account in our planning," says Ognedal.