The International Regulators Forum (IRF) is an informal but nevertheless important collaborative body linking official agencies regulating offshore oil and gas safety in various countries and provinces worldwide.
It was established in 1994 by a group of regulators who wished to promote a shared understanding of issues related to health, safety and the environment.
The member countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the UK and the USA.
Due to take place in Washington DC on 8-9 September, it will be the first extraordinary meeting of the eight-member IRF in its 17-year history.
“We proposed this session because we feel it’s now important to discuss how the serious incidents we’ve seen in the petroleum sector over the past year are followed up by regulators in other parts of the world,” says PSA director-general Magne Ognedal.
“It’s also important to acquire an overview of the measures and projects which are under way in each of the member countries.”
The oil blowouts on Australia’s Montara field in August last year and the Macondo field in the Gulf of Mexico this April will also be considered and discussed at the big international safety conference being staged by the IRF in Vancouver, Canada, this October (link).
The Washington meeting accordingly provides an important opportunity to prepare for this event.
The response to the PSA’s call for a meeting has been uniformly positive. All the member countries have announced their intention to attend, and will be represented by their top management and specialists on well safety.
Washington has been chosen as the venue for practical reasons, since this is where the US safety regulator has its offices and a number of the commissions of inquiry are based.
The PSA has had a close relationship with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), its American sister organisation (formerly the Minerals Management Service).
However, it has waited to take direct contact with the US body until the conclusion of the most critical phase in handling the blowout which followed the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
“Now that the well appears to be under control, the time is ripe to learn more about the incident and how other regulators have responded,” says Mr Ognedal.
The PSA has set up a project team (link) to systematise and assess experience and investigatory findings from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, so that Norway can learn from these and make relevant improvements.
Key areas for follow-up identified by this team so far include well integrity and design/construction as well as basic methods for preventing and stopping possible blowouts off Norway.
“We're extremely interested in securing an overview of the action taken by our counterparts in other countries,” explains Mr Ognedal.
“In addition to sharing information about the measures we’ve each adopted, it’s natural for the IRF members to consider whether we’re should launch joint initiatives or projects where we see that shared challenges and goals exist.”
He also emphasises that, although the IRF collaboration facilitates data exchanges and discussions on how regulators can best handle relevant safety challenges, each member country must assess the consequences for their own sector on an independent basis.