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PSA chief says 2011 a good year for safety in Norwegian oil sector

14 March 2012

“We suffered no fatalities or major accidents in 2011, but several serious incidents show that efforts to improve and maintain the level of safety can’t be relaxed,” said Magne Ognedal, director general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA).

Magne Ognedal, director general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway
Magne Ognedal, director general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway

Speaking at a presentation of the PSA’s annual report on safety (Status and Signals: 2011-2012)  to the industry on 14 February, Ognedal  said the Norwegian petroleum industry now faces several crucial issues.

One question is whether major accidents, such as Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Montara blowout off Australia the year before, have prompted international companies involved on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) to centralise their overall management systems and work routines. For many companies overall operational oversight is from the head office, rather than  
from the specific countries in which they operate.

“We’ve received several worrying signals that this could be the case,” said Ognedal.

The PSA has accordingly seen a need to emphasise the formal obligations resting on all companies that have a presence in Norway.

Another possible trend which has aroused concern at the PSA relates to the tripartite collaboration over safety between companies, unions and government.

“Some people believe that this cooperation has moved in the wrong direction,” said Ognedal. “Such concerns must be listened to and taken seriously.

“It’s very important that collaboration between the three main sides functions well,” he added, and emphasised that cooperation of this kind must build on loyalty and mutual respect.

“First and foremost, I would ask why the Gulf of Mexico disaster continues to be categorised as an environmental discharge? It perplexes and astonishes me that an accident with a tragic outcome for many people is usually discussed as a pollution issue – not least in Norway.

“Perhaps it’s appropriate to ask how Norway would have handled a petroleum incident which left 11 dead and many permanently injured? I believe – and hope – that the answer is self evident.

Ognedal concluded: “Let’s remember that safety and concern for people must always be the top priority. And an enterprise management which safeguards personnel is also the best protection for the environment.”

The PSA had a busy year in 2011 – perhaps the busiest in its history. Many demanding jobs and major projects, including the follow-up to Deepwater Horizon and Montara and work on the EU’s proposed overall regulation of offshore safety, will help to maintain this high level of activity in 2012.

In addition to the supervision of players and activities in the Norwegian petroleum sector, work in the wake of the recent major international accidents will continue to make its mark.

The final report from the PSA’s Deepwater Horizon project is likely to be published this year, after the key US investigations have been completed.

Activity on the NCS remains high and major new discoveries have given a fresh boost, with finds such as Skrugard and Havis helping to shift attention further north.

The PSA says that while it knows a great deal today about the technical and operational challenges of petroleum operations on the northern NCS, continuing to learn more about this region is important.

The organisation and the industry itself will undertake a number of joint  projects during 2012. Main priorities for the year are management and major accident risk, safety barriers to minimise the risk of a major accident, the effect of discharges on the natural environment, and the minimising of threats to personnel exposed to risk.

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