Commentary, 7/8 2010

Published Aug 16, 2010
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Cover, 7/8 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

A pound of cure” far understates the immediate and long-term effect of the Deepwater Horizon disaster at the Macondo field in the Gulf of Mexico. As for Exxon and Alaska in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez tanker spill in 1989, the long-term consequences for BP and the US Gulf states will be costly.

On the this side of the Atlantic, Petroleum Safety Authority Norway reminds us that its efforts in ensuring safety and protecting the environment are directed primarily at the preventive side – to help ensure that environmentally harmful incidents like this do not occur.

Not surprisingly, the PSA has been following the ongoing situation in the GoM after the disaster onboard the Deepwater Horizon rig on 20 April with acute interest.

On May 7, the PSA announced it had set up a project team to assess experience gained and investigation results from this incident in order to apply lessons learned and improvements to the Norwegian continental shelf. In addition to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the team would examine, in particular, the Montara field incident in Australia during 2009, the loss of Aban Pearl in Venezuela this year and the loss of anchor chain during a storm on the Ocean Vanguard in 2004.

Early in July – not long after US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar published a report on the GoM incident – the PSA announced that the project team had formulated a framework to review US government findings and recommendations. So far, the PSA preliminary conclusions are that the majority of the 21 Salazar recommendations are already covered by Norway’s regulations. The remaining four or five recommendations that are not specifically covered by the existing Norwegian regulatory system cover well integrity, well design and construction, as well as emergency preparedness and response to halting a possible blowout.

The next phase for the PSA team is to analyse well integrity issues raised by Salizar, including organisational factors, such as education, training and qualifications of personnel performing critical functions in planning and executing well operations. The team will also examine operational and technical management systems for well control, including operational and maintenance requirements for blowout preventers (BOPs) as well as assessing existing systems for setting BOP certification requirements.

The PSA will draw on expertise from the Well Integrity Forum (WIF) – a co-operative effort between the operating companies on the NCS established by PSA initiative in 2006 – to examine well design and construction issues.

Following the investigation into the gas blowout on Snorre A in the North Sea during 2004 – which the authorities described as one of the most serious incidents ever to occur in the North Sea – the PSA launched a comprehensive well integrity study. A survey of 581 production wells from 12 installations in the spring of 2006 identified weaknesses in every fifth well, leading to action from both the oil and gas industry and the authorities.

“BP has done much on a trial and error basis, and Norway can take advantage of the lessons learned. The PSA has emphasised the need to secure such benefits to the OLF, which has confirmed that it will coordinate the work and takes the issue seriously,” said Director-General Magne Ognedal, when the PSA contacted the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) to stress the need to assess how good the sector’s emergency preparedness principles are for halting a possible subsea blowout off Norway.

So now PSA – a body that usually works in the background to ensure a positive HSE culture exists on the NCS – in the spotlight, with the industry awaiting their findings and recommendations.

Like the industry, we too can only wait and follow the results as they unfold. Stay tuned.

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