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Boundless collaboration

Safety regulators in north-western Europe have been exchanging knowledge and learning from each other for more than 20 years. The EU now wants other regions to follow their good example.

Underlying this collaboration is a recognition that regulations and parameters may vary from country to country, but the challenges and problems are often the same.

Key government agencies responsible for supervising offshore petroleum activities belong to the North Sea Offshore Authorities Forum (NSOAF).

The goal of this body is to ensure a continuous improvement in health, safety and environmental performance in the north-west European oil and gas industry.

“This has been a very successful collaboration,”  emphasises Magne Ognedal, director general of the PSA – one of the eight members of the forum.

He highlights sharing of information and knowledge as particularly important, not least because the various countries frequently find themselves confronting the same issues.

One example involves preventing hydrocarbon leaks, the subject of projects in several member countries. The NSOAF has been an important arena for swapping experience and results.

Following up the Deepwater Horizon and Montara accidents off the USA and Australia respectively represents another area where exchanging information has been useful.

Several of the member countries have conducted projects and studies directed at learning from these major incidents.

The NSOAF meets once a year for its plenary session, where activities are summed up and new assignments get initiated and discussed.

Activities in the forum are primarily pursued through working groups, which bring together representatives from the regulators involved.

A number of these teams have pursued a range of issues over the years, with some remaining active for a long time while others are wound up once they have completed their specific mission.

The NSOAF’s four current working groups deal with HSE management in general, safety training, drilling and well control, and information-sharing over relations with the EU.

Among other activities, the HS&E working group contributes to continuous improvement of safety and the working environment as well as information exchange between the members.

Another important subject is the harmonisation of regulatory requirements and the associated reduction in administrative workloads.

The working group for safety training seeks to achieve mutual acceptance of official requirements in this area by the various North Sea nations.

Members of the working group for drilling and well control exchange information and collaborate on safety and the working environment related to drilling and well activities, well integrity and blowout prevention.

The working group on the EU aims to secure a shared interpretation of and approach to EU/European Economic Area legislation concerning safety and working environment issues.

The results of the NSOAF’s work have been noticed, both in the industry and in political circles. A case in point is the European Commission.

After Deepwater Horizon, the latter has signalled that it sees a need for EU legislation covering part of the petroleum industry. That includes preventing and dealing with major oil spills.

The NSOAF has been an important source of information for the commission, both on petroleum activities in general and on the supervisory and regulatory regimes in the various countries.

Brussels regards the forum as an important organisation for safety work, and believes that it provides a very suitable model for cross-national collaboration between regulators elsewhere.

It has signalled that it wants similar bodies to be established in the other European petroleum provinces – the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Baltic.

The NSOAF’s goal has been to identify common challenges and reduce variations between national, formal technical, operational and training standards for North Sea petroleum activities.

Fairly substantial diff erences exist between the member countries over regulatory philosophy, work culture and political priorities.

That is also likely to remain the case, Mr Ognedal emphasises. “I don’t think, for instance, that we’ll see any greater harmonisation of regulations in the NSOAF than we already have.

“But I believe this kind of cooperation is more significant than ever. Precisely because of the differences between countries, it’s important to facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge.”