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No compromise

Dramatic changes may be affecting Norway’s oil and gas sector, but PSA director-general Anne Myhrvold makes it clear that savings must not affect continuous safety improvements.


Photo of Anne Myhrvold

oil price decline which began last year and has continued into 2015 has put a new face on the petroleum industry, with its features marked by worry and demands for cost reductions.

“We’ve entered a very important period in a number of areas,” says Myhrvold. “We’ll have to live with decisions taken now for a long time to come.

“So it’s important that the companies make choices which take care of safety and the working environment both now and in the future.

“All decisions must meet two requirements in particular – prudent operation and continuous safety improvements. Even at a time of cut-backs and savings, nobody can compromise on these basic principles.”

Procedures
In the Norwegian discussion on cost pressures and restructuring in the oil industry, criticism is often levelled at the mass of documents and procedures. Such comments are supported by Myhrvold.

"We’ve seen that many companies develop a culture where new documents and procedures are piled on top of those already in place. That can become inappropriate and unmanageable.”

She points out that Norway’s petroleum regulations are functional – they describe the level of safety to be attained, and largely leave how this is to be achieved to the companies.

“They’re the ones who create the management systems and who often choose to develop supplementary procedures and documentation requirements.

“They should seize the opportunity offered by this restructuring phase to simplify their systems. That would benefit both safety and efficiency.”

Myhrvold believes that the industry also has some way to go with regard to safety analyses. “We see a lot of work done which doesn’t necessarily strengthen safe operation.

“We’d urge the companies to assess whether their analyses and procedures serve the intended purpose, and we’ll be pursuing these issues in the future.”

“Companies should seize the opportunity offered by this restructuring phase to simplify their systems. That would benefit both safety and efficiency.”

Late life
The industry’s efforts to save will not be helped by the steady rise in late-life fields and facilities on the NCS, where returns are marginal because production is lower and costs higher.

The PSA has accordingly defined “safe late life” as a new main priority for 2015, Myhrvold notes: “We aim to help ensure that fields and facilities in this phase are operated prudently and in accordance with the regulations.

“Our challenge to the industry is that the requirement for prudent operation must be applied to facilities and activities throughout their life cycle.”

She says that companies must prepare robust plans, prioritise maintenance and ensure technical safety and integrity – put briefly, manage with the future in mind.

“Maintenance management is a central aspect here. Let’s learn from the UK, where a number of fields have had to shut down early because of inadequate maintenance and modifications. That’s not the way to maximise value for society.”

Far north
The PSA also introduced a new main priority in 2014 – this time concerning the far north of the NCS. That has been retained for 2015.

“We expect the industry to work on defined issues in the Barents Sea, including those presented by the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association last November,” says Myhrvold, and adds that the PSA is also pursuing projects for safe activity in the far north.

“Cooperation on safety represents an important challenge to the industry. We know the companies can collaborate when they see a benefit.

“No less than 33 of them joined forces to shoot three-dimensional seismic in Barents Sea South-East, for example. But the ability is not enough – they must also desire it. It’s about looking ahead.”

As part of the PSA’s commitment to the Barents Sea, the government is to stage an Arctic Safety Summit in Tromsø during the late autumn.

“We have ambitious goals for this event,” says Myhrvold. “The aim is to determine the present status and think ahead. So we’ll begin the summit with a conference for top executives.

“That’ll bring together the most important decision-makers and policy shapers for safe operation in the far north – industry and union leaders, ministers and other government representatives, and international players with Arctic experience.”

Positive
The PSA’s overall assessment is that a number of good safety results have been achieved by the petroleum sector in recent years. With no fatal accidents since 2009, the RNNP study shows many positive trends.

“But it also identifies a number of areas where improvement is needed,” says Myhrvold. “In particular, big variations can be seen in the way the companies manage barriers.

“A job needs to be done here, and we’ll be taking new initiatives. Hearing damage remains a big challenge, and hydrocarbon leaks worry us.

“We see that variations in the size and number of such leaks have been too big in recent years, and want them to be stabilised at a lower level. Every gas leak is one too many.”

Collaboration between companies, unions and government is a cornerstone of the RNNP process, which is commissioned by the Safety Forum.

The PSA has strengthened its commitment to this arena for central safety discussions between the various parties over the past two years.“Tripartite collaboration is very important for us,” says Myhrvold. “We’ll be checking that the companies also fulfil their obligations in this area.

“Efforts to enhance efficiency don’t mean that corners can be cut or participation in collaboration dropped. Responsible activity depends on good cooperation between all sides.”