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Tough climate - vulnerable environment

Producing oil and gas in Arctic regions must cope with extreme cold and much wind and fog. Since the environment there is more vulnerable than in other parts of the world, accidents could have greater consequences.

Arctic petroleum activities outside Canada and the USA are based on the same safety standards applied elsewhere, with only a few minor adjustments to meet special local challenges. A delegation from the PSA visited regulators and operators in Canada and Alaska during the autumn of 2006 to see what other countries have done to achieve good Arctic petroleum safety.

While Norwegian oil and gas operations are also creeping northwards, conditions in Arctic North America cannot be directly compared with the northernmost NCS. Permafrost, ice and Polar bears present extreme and genuine challenges on the other side of the Atlantic, but are peripheral factors in the Barents Sea.

Norway wants to conserve natural assets and resources in the far north, as exemplified by the environmental project in the government’s Barents 2020 plan for knowledge acquisition. Led by classification society Det Norske Veritas, this work is reviewing industrial standards for HSE in these far northern waters.

Official regulations for petroleum operations differ in the Norwegian and Russian sectors of the Barents Sea, but crossborder cooperation is being pursued.

These efforts follow up the government’s unified management plan for the Barents Sea, and aim to improve co-existence between fishing, petroleum and transport activities in vulnerable waters.

Safety levels must be at least on a par with those in the North Sea, while also taking account of the demanding conditions found in the far north.

The aim is to develop industry HSE standards which apply to both Barents Sea sectors and which are perceived as relevant for suppliers in Norway and Russia.

The PSA does not believe that general petroleum safety standards and requirements on the NCS are so good that they would be adequate under tougher conditions than today’s. Operators also see that some action is needed.

“Safety systems depend on ensuring that equipment like hydraulics or firefighting gear doesn’t ice up,” observes principal engineer Per Endresen, who is playing a key role in the PSA’s work on process safety in Arctic regions.

“Some process technology adaptations are also needed, such as fuels and lubricants which can cope with lower temperatures.

“Extensive areas of mobile units or fixed installations must be enclosed to protect personnel and hardware against climatic extremes. And heating will play a more central role.

“Weather conditions in these waters also call for better planning of maintenance and supplies.”

Av Per Lars Tonstad