Norway Oil Body Says Lifeboat Tests Nearing Closure

STAVANGER, Nov 8, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

Lifeboat woes on the Norwegian continental shelf which have shut in significant production at the world's third largest crude exporter since the launch of a lifeboat inspection program in 2005 are nearing an end, the Norwegian Oil Industry Association, or OLF, said Wednesday.

A series of structural tests carried out on lifeboats as part of an OLF-led NCS-wide program have been completed and 146 of the total 211 boats in use have either been reinforced or will be reinforced in line with recommendations by the OLF and the Norwegian Safety Authority.

No further production shut-ins are expected in relation to vessel structural problems, said OLF spokesman Kjetil Hjertvik.

Preliminary gravity tests on lifeboats, which were undertaken at the same time as structural checks, ascertained that only one type of steel vessel, FF1000D, of which there are 21, needed remedial work to ensure safety for passengers, Hjertvik said. "There have been no initial indicators that any other models have problems," he added.

The GES40 boat type is currently under scrutiny, with additional testing on the GES40MB and others likely over the coming months.

Although production is extremely unlikely to be affected during the process, OLF said operators may have to carry out a range of measures, which could include improving seating arrangements and conversion of drop-boats to a sliding-mechanism to avoid the negative g-force impact.

The limited impact on production from the tests will have come as a relief to operators at Norwegian fields, after a spate of shut-ins over the past year, including recent closures at Statoil ASA's (STO) Snorre A and Vigdis fields which are now back in operation.

But longer term, OLF is working on new lifeboat standards to replace archaic rules created to apply to vessels onboard ships, rather than platforms from which the drop-height is typically higher. The body will gather the results of all its tests, including an ongoing investigation at laboratories in the Netherlands into the specific impact of g-force on the human body, in order to reach a conclusion over how standards should be revised.

Copyright (c) 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.