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Better informed on ice and cold

The technical and operational challenges facing Norway’s petroleum sector in the high north have finally been collected in a single report. “This gives us a solid basis for continued follow-up,” says Finn Carlsen, one of the PSA’s directors of supervision.

This article was published in the publication "Safety - status and signals 2011-2012".

For a long time, discussions about activities and challenges in Norway’s northernmost waters have usually begun with a debate on what facts are available, Mr Carlsen notes.

“So we took the initiative to bring together the knowledge acquired to date by the industry, government and research institutions.

“In addition, the aim has been to secure an overview of improvement projects launched by or planned in the industry. We’ve wanted to summarise all these in one publication.”

Completed in October/November 2011, this report shows that a great deal of knowledge has been acquired about established petroleum activities in the northern regions of the NCS.

The industry has also launched or planned a number of important development projects covering this area, Mr Carlsen notes.

“That gives a good basis for planning supervision, developing regulations, building expertise and so on. And the report will be interesting for everyone working in or with Norway’s high north.”

“The document also illustrates the diversity of this region,” observes principal engineer Kjell Gunnar Dørum, who represented the PSA in the project alongside Mr Carlsen.

“This high northern area presents a complex picture, not least in relation to climate variables. There’s naturally nothng new in that, but it underlines the need to take account of these variables when planning activities.”
Technological and safety challenges related to petroleum operations in the Arctic and on the far northern NCS have traditionally been presented as very special.

“Our report helps to demolish that myth,” says Mr Dørum. “From a safety perspective, established activities in these waters largely involve known issues with some distinctive features.”

“The report is also useful in light of the recent Skrugard and Havis discoveries in the Barents Sea,” says Mr Carlsen.

“Experience is important when assessing developments in new areas".

But we expect new knowledge will turn out to be needed when seeking to bring these finds on stream.”

The two discoveries he mentions lie in part of the Barents Sea which lacks permanent activity at present, and Skrugard is set to be the northernmost development on the NCS so far.

It could also be the first off Norway in a region affected by drift ice, and the PSA’s plans for 2012 include assessing the climate challenges which a possible project might face.

This work will include sampling and assessing of the meteorological and oceanographic data used by operator Statoil to describe  natural conditions around Skrugard.

Entitled Technology and operational challenges for the high north, (pdf) the 2011 report is in English and has been commissioned by the PSA.

It was drawn up in cooperation with the International Research Institute of Stavanger (Iris) and the University of Stavanger, with professor Ove T Gudmestad as a key contributor.

“We’ll be assessing and reviewing recommendations from these external consultants during the coming spring,” says Mr Carlsen. But one issue stands out immediately.

“It’ll be important for us to urge the industry to concentrate more on preventing environmental discharges than on building up an oil spill response,” he says.

“A worryingly large number of people believe that cleaning up spills is the most important precaution against environmental harm. But that’s not the case.

“Prevention – ensuring that no spills occur – is the key. Cleaning up possible discharges must be a last resort, no matter how far north or south you operate.”