Commentary, 9/10 2010

Published Oct 11, 2010
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Cover 9/10 2010

Safety by the Numbers

SOLAS – the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea – dates back to 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster of 1912.

In the course of the last century, industries such as shipping and oil – especially in the areas in which they converge – have reacted as disaster has struck.

Oil tanker legislation and technology to adapt bounded forward following notorious spills.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA ’90), which among other things required that all single-hull tankers be replaced by double-hull tankers by 2015. Later, amendments to MARPOL, adopted in 1992 and entered into force in 1993, brought in double-hull requirements for tanker newbuilds.

Following the wreck of the Prestige off the coast of Spain in November 2002, the EU accelerated the phase-out of single-hull tankers.

It’s positive that decisive measures are put into place in response to disaster. Reactive measures lead to new proactive technologies and methodologies to prevent future disaster.

Unfortunately, this may mean that preventive measures don’t measure up to the latest demands. When looking to this year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it’s not difficult to see that conditions for the well were extreme – ultradeep waters, drilling through kilometres of rock and tremendous well pressure.

And now, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we’ve seen a global response to move toward better systems to prevent such disaster as well as to deal with the consequences.

The government and authorities – in concert with industry – are reviewing rule changes in the United States in the wake of the Macondo well blowout. We can expect revisions and updates to rules as well as tightened enforcement. Likewise, the US authorities have looked to North Sea legislation, policies and methods as the US Department of the Interior drafted its 21 recommendations as part of its report on the GoM incident.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is an opportunity to not only prevent the same sort of tragedy from occurring in the future – it’s opens a door to the possibility of imagining future risks and dangers as oil and gas is exploited from even more challenging areas. Close to home, the Arctic is one example that comes to mind.

The Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) acknowledges that the systems for emergency oil-spill response can always be improved. Thus NOFO is involved in the continual development of projects with the intention to contribute to the advancement of existing procedures.

All in all, everyone in the oil and gas industry recognises that health, safety and environment (HSE) touches all aspects of their work. HSE philosophy now permeates the workplace, and employees feel themselves to be a part of the process of creating safe conditions and practices.

In many ways, this “ownership” of HSE has led to proactive and preventive measures – beyond simply following safety rules, individuals take more responsibility for their own safety. Above all, individual ownership makes HSE a public entity – something we can discuss in the open.

Recently, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy hosted a meeting of the authorities and industry leaders to discuss the GoM oil spill and what it means for Norway. A positive move – and we can imagine that the topic was discussed in detail amongst the participants. But that the meeting was held behind closed doors was disheartening.

Yes, the GoM spill has been thoroughly covered by the media – and the industry has made itself heard – and we’ve had open HSE meetings from bodies such as the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway. Will we see the Ministry host an open forum to bring all these voices together in open debate?

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