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Volcanic ash – status for the petroleum industry

Norway’s oil and gas sector has handled the travel challenges presented by the volcanic ash clouds from Iceland in a good way, according to a recent review.

But this assessment also concluded that companies, unions and government need to develop a best practice on the use of offshore cranes and baskets in personnel transport.

These were the main conclusions of a tripartite meeting at the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) on 12 May. This looked at the status of and experience with the recent periodic restrictions on or suspensions of helicopter traffic to and from Norwegian offshore installations.

Employer organisations, unions, operators, shipping companies and contractors were unanimous that the challenges presented so far by the ash clouds had been handled well. The position is comparable with a dense fog, which the industry is used to dealing with.

No serious incidents or other major consequences for planned activities were reported as a result of suspended or restricted helicopter flights.

Lack of clarity
During the meeting, however, it also emerged that some lack of clarity prevails in the industry concerning the requirements for using offshore cranes and baskets in personnel transport*.

Areas where operational criteria need to be clarified include restrictions related to weather and wave heights as well as visibility/daylight.

Others relate to the involvement of safety delegates and crane drivers before such activities, education and training, and how far this form of transport is voluntary.

It was agreed that the development of common criteria for the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) would be desirable. The Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) will take the initiative in presenting proposals on how the challenges should be tackled.

A good tripartite collaboration must be established in this process, and the PSA will participate as an active observer.
The subject of the volcanic ash clouds and their impact on the petroleum industry will also be on the agenda at the next meeting of the Safety Forum on 17 June.

* Use of offshore cranes and baskets for personnel transport:

  • The basic rule is that such transport will be confined to lifting equipment designed and approved to lift people.
  • The regulations place tight restrictions on personnel transport by lifting devices, since such operations involve a high level of risk. Requirements include a risk assessment and assessment of alternative solutions.
  • The safety assessment of transporting personnel in this way must be documented.
  • Pursuant to the petroleum regulations, however, it is the responsible management both offshore and at land-based plants which assesses and decides whether such personnel transport is acceptable, and which permits the operation to proceed.
  • See section 83 of the activity regulations concerning lifting operations. The guidelines for this section refer to Norsok R003, which describes operational conditions for such lifting. See in particular chapter 4 on the safe use of lifting equipment and chapter 5 on additional requirements for lifting personnel.