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Director General Magne Ognedal at the Safety Forum annual conference: ”Handling a new reality is demanding”

”Major changes in the Norwegian oil and gas industry have resulted in the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) having to assess the need for changes, both in terms of regulatory requirements and the authorities’ use of policy instruments, ” said Magne Ognedal of the PSA at the Safety Forum annual conference in Stavanger.

A few years ago, there were 14-15 oil companies operating on the Norwegian Shelf. These were large companies that were competent and well-organised. Today, this number has increased to 70. Many of these are small companies without much experience. Including the supply industry and shipping companies, the PSA currently has supervisory responsibility for 110 companies onshore and offshore. In addition, the pressure in the industry is intense, there is stiff competition for competence and capacity.

“Handling such a situation is quite demanding. We have to look into whether we have the optimal regulatory requirements for the world we live in and make sure we have the right tools,” said Ognedal.
He warned of a continuously strong and constant supervision, which will prioritise tasks and keep an overall focus on the activities. The audits will not focus too much on detail, but on what really matters in the industry.

“Putting learning into practice”
Despite strong HSE efforts, minor and major incidents still occur in the Norwegian and international petroleum industry. Ognedal drew attention to the latest disaster in Texas City, and questioned people’s ability to translate learning and knowledge into action.

“I have been working with safety in the petroleum industry since 1974, and we still have the same discussions that we had in the 1980s. We must become better at taking lessons learned with us through a long life,” said Ognedal.

”Pleased about StatoilHydro ambition”
On average, StatoilHydro is responsible for 80% of the oil and gas production on the Norwegian Shelf. The company aims to combine the best from Hydro and Statoil and become a world leader in HSE. Ognedal was asked whether he thought the company could succeed in their ambition or whether these were merely fine words.

”I am pleased about the company’s statement. I presume that the new company will combine the best from the two previous companies and emerge as an even better HSE organisation,” the PSA Director replied.

New exploration and production fields are gradually opening up in the northern areas. Here the industry will encounter more extreme conditions, accompanied by great environmental challenges. Ognedal assumes that the companies will take a risk-based approach to activities in the Barents Sea, taking into account the vulnerable natural environment.

“The consequences of a major accident would be greater in the North than anywhere else. Furthermore, the safety assessments must to a larger extent focus on protecting the external environment. Accidental spills must be avoided,” Ognedal emphasised.

The prevention of damage to the external environment in the North was also debated in a panel discussion, following introductions from Rasmus Hansson, General Secretary of WWF, Discipline Leader Ingrid Årstad of the PSA and HSE Manager Liv Nielsen of Eni Norge.

”Best practice in StatoilHydro”
At the Safety Forum annual conference, Executive Vice President Tore Torvund of StatoilHydro said that the company’s ambitious HSE level is an important competitive factor in the international oil and gas market. StatoilHydro has had their share of accidents, where investigations have revealed a lack of compliance with regulations and insufficient management and control.

”These accidents indicate that both we, and the industry at large, must improve. We are working hard to achieve this,” said Torvund.

According to the Executive Vice President, key words for achieving a better HSE standard in StatoilHydro are technical integrity, knowledge and competence, good management, careful compliance and safe conduct, as well as responsibility and precision. Torvund is not pleased that the integration process has revealed that the operation of the company’s installations differs widely. Moreover, the practice differs widely internally in the two former companies, and there is no uniform Statoil or Hydro model.

“Each field is proud of their model and claims that it is the best one. We are a world leader in many fields, but there are also areas where we are not in that league at all. We must find a best practice and create a recognisable StatoilHydro operation. We need joint systems and procedures and standardised working and management processes,” said Executive Vice President Tore Torvund.

”HSE must be integrated into the whole industry”
Ole Berrefjord, former central adviser and State Secretary for former Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, currently advisor for scenario and strategy work, described today’s oil and gas industry as a triple drama.

”Assignments in the industry are queuing up, it has never been as hectic. At the same time, HSE standards are challenged by wear and tear and by installations that are nearing the end of their life span. A generation of oil workers will reach retirement age and new systems are continuously being implemented. Furthermore, there is stiff competition for competence,” said Berrefjord, pointing out that is demanding to establish a world-leading HSE standard in such a hectic working environment. “It can easily lead to a short-term perspective, rather than a long-term one,” stated Berrefjord, warning that HSE should not merely be an additional responsibility resting with a technical manager.

He emphasised that if Norway’s ambition to become a world leader on safety in the oil and gas industry is to be fulfilled, there must be a broad HSE focus with the top management.

Keen interest
Another topic at the Safety Forum annual conference was the chemical working environment. The risk to surface treatment operators was also discussed. Lawyer Kari Breirem gave an account of the price that is sometimes paid for being a whistleblower. She had to leave her position with the law firm she was working for after having drawn attention to irregularities in connection with the Tønne/Røkke case in 2002.

The Safety Forum has now entered its seventh working year. The Forum has representatives from the employees, employers and authorities, and is the central tripartite arena for HSE in the oil and gas industry. This year there was a waiting list to participate at the annual conference.