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Full production + extensive construction = risk of major accident

A number of land-based petroleum plants in Norway are currently pursuing major development and modifi cation projects while continuing to produce at full pitch. That combination could be explosive without a good grasp of risk and its management.

“The potential for a major accident is present when hydrocarbon systems and complex development projects run in parallel,” observes Einar Ravnås, supervisory coordinator for land plants at the PSA.  “Today’s many activities make special demands on risk understanding, good planning and clear division of responsibility.”

A major modifi cation project in 2005 at the Kårstø gas processing plant north of Stavanger provided important lessons in this context. The work aimed to upgrade technical facilities and expand capacity to handle gas from the Kristin fi eld, but a series of serious gas leaks occurred during the construction period.

Investigations by operator Statoil and the PSA revealed that poor planning and risk awareness in the various activities was the most important reason for several of the incidents.

“The most important message from Kårstø is that the precautionary principle must apply, with assessments carried out in advance,” says Mr Ravnås, “It’s necessary to understand the overall risk picture and allow this knowledge to form the basis for managing activities. Managers at different levels must follow this up.”

While the number of people employed simultaneously on an offshore installation is restricted by various factors, no such constraints apply on land. Several thousand people can be engaged at times within a small area.

Stringent standards are set for managing and understanding risk when so many work orders and overlapping activities take place alongside large hydrocarbon fl ows.

The PSA will accordingly be paying particular attention to the Mongstad refi nery near Bergen and the Kårstø plant during 2008.

A new combined heat and power station is under construction at the fi rst of these sites, with a number of other big projects also planned to debottleneck and modernise the facilities.

At Kårstø, the technical safety and control system is being upgraded to produce a better and more robust plant. But this work also involves a high level of risk in the construction phase.

“We’re concerned that the operators are planning an excessive level of activity at a time when resources are in very short supply,” says Mr Ravnås. “Expertise and capacity are factors which strongly infl uence the risk of major accidents on land.”

They also represent a challenge in the operations phase. A number of the plants lie in parts of Norway where recruitment of competent specialists in safetycritical areas is diffi cult.

These challenges are reinforced by a loss of knowledge and experience through the early retirement scheme being offered by StatoilHydro to employees aged 58 and more.