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Prevention is the best form of protection

An incident which discharges oil or harmful chemicals to the sea follows from a chain of circumstances and events. The PSA’s role in protecting the environment is to ensure that the companies conduct their business in an acceptable manner so that such spills do not occur

The PSA’s work on the environment is almost wholly preventive. But supervising measures taken at the source of an accident to halt or limit any discharges also falls within its remit.

A clear understanding of their roles by the various players is important for good national management of the environment, says Ingrid Årstad, the PSA’s discipline leader for managing HSE.

“We must form a view of what represents an acceptable petroleum activity in relation to the risk of incidents and conditions which could harm human life and health, damage the environment through unplanned discharges, or cause a loss of functionality for installations or equipment,” she says.

She emphasises that expertise on which types and sizes of discharges could harm the environment rests with the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT).

The PSA neither has nor should have any views on this, nor on the vulnerability of the various parts of the NCS. Nor is it entitled to express any views on the capacity and efficiency of oil spill response measures. But the agency nevertheless plays an important role in these contexts by ensuring that companies prevent undesirable discharges through compliance with the limits set in the regulations.

It must also check that they are tailoring preventive measures to the relevant risks, environmental conditions and emergency preparedness.

A growing number of environmental challenges have attracted attention from society and the media in recent decades. One consequence has been a focus on dilemmas posed by confl icting value choices. Placing possible clashes between different interests on the public agenda is both right and important.

However, Ms Årstad believes that it is equally important to focus on the collective benefi ts or synergies offered by taking account of the various aspects. “Concern for human life and health and a desire to protect the environment often coincide,” she observes. “The principles for risk management are the same in both areas, also when economic assets are to be safeguarded.

“We therefore regard our efforts to prevent major accidents as a big contribution to protecting the environment against harm from petroleum activities.”