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Working more safely ashore

Many believe that safety at Norway’s land-based petroleum plants has strengthened after seven years under the PSA’s umbrella. But sustaining good HSE results demands constant attention.

This article was published in the magazine "Safety - status and signals 2011-2012"

The PSA’s regulatory authority is not limited to the NCS. It extends from offshore installations and pipelines to eight large plants along the Norwegian coast. Formal transfer of responsibility for HSE at the latter occurred when the PSA was created on 1 January 2004. Before then, offshore regulation had ended where the pipelines came ashore.

The land-based plants were previously regulated by the Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning and the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority.

“A key reason why HSE responsibilitywas transferred to us is the tight integration between offshore and landbased facilities,” explains PSA supervision coordinator Kjell Arild Anfinsen.

“With the exception of the oil refinery at Slagentangen south of Oslo, all the plants we supervise are physically connected to NCS installations by pipelines.”

This link is even tighter at the two newest facilities – Hammerfest LNG at Melkøya and the Nyhamna gas processing plant near Molde. Their control rooms also run all production offshore.

“Connections at operator level are also strong,” Mr Anfinsen says.

“All the plants are operated by players who’re primarily involved offshore. So they were run in accordance with the same overall management principles as NCS installations even before we took over.”

According to an evaluation by the Norwegian Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi) in 2010, the transfer of regulatory authority has improved risk management at the plants.

“The working environment and safety are better looked after overall, and a coordinated view can be taken of operations offshore and on land to the extent required,” it found.

“More frequent and more extensive audits of the working environment and safety by a single regulator rather than two such bodies reflect an improvement. “Employees in particular are pleased with this strengthening of official supervision, which has also led to better dialogue with government.”

The PSA has worked to put unified management requirements in place for operations both offshore and on land since the transfer of authority took place in 2004.

A common set of regulations came into force on 1 January last year, which means that the same framework HSE and management rules now apply both at sea and ashore. In addition, the land-based plants are subject to separate technical-operational regulations.

“Having a single set of rules covering all the areas we supervise is a big advantage for us as the regulator,” says Mr Anfinsen.

“It also benefits the operators, who’ve naturally been accustomed to working in compliance with Norway’s petroleum regulations.”

Activities on land differ in a number of areas from operations on the NCS, including a larger physical area than offshore platforms can provide. That permits more simultaneous working.

In addition, the actual processing facilities at the land-based plants are more complex. This is the case at the refineries, for instance. Several incidents both in Norway and internationally have increased the attention paid to major accidents among operators on land.

The explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery in March 2005, when 15 people were killed and almost 200 injured, has been a particularly substantial source of lessons in a number of areas.

“That this is highly relevant for Norway’s land-based plants can be seen from incidents like the condensate leak at Kollsnes in 2009 and the Mongstad gas leak of 2010,” observes Mr Anfinsen.

Noting that both had a major accident potential, he says the PSA has consciously chosen to prioritise follow-up of such risk at the facilities, as well as their working environment.

“That’s yielded results, and we’ve seen a positive development over the past five years – particularly with regard to work on major accident risk by the companies.” But he emphasises that the job is not finished.

“The regulations impose clear requirements on the companies for continuous improvement in their activities.

“So the working environment and major accident risk – and not least the links between them – will continue to be given a high priority in our supervision.” Several of the land-based plants are affected by restructuring and improvement programmes, and the PSA will ensure that the way these changes get implemented is acceptable in safety terms.

The L8 industry forum was established in 2005 to provide a network for all the landbased plants and their operators. It discusses issues and exchanges experience, and the PSA attends as required.

One example of information sharing by the L8 members occurred when several of the plants faced challenges during lengthy periods of extreme cold in the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-ll.

Lasting several weeks, these big freezes caused ice to form in piping systems and thereby forced shutdowns because of problems with important safety systems. Through the forum, plants which had long experience with very low temperatures could provide advice for the others and make a big contribution to overcoming the difficulties.

L8 also works very actively with the preparation of regulations, with its members participating in consultation processes and coordinating joint submissions.

Another important job involves contributing to the preparation of the PSA’s annual RNNP report on risk in Norway’s petroleum sector.

Major accidents have been put on the forum’s agenda, too, most recently through a joint seminar on this issue staged by pipeline operator Gassco last autumn. At that event, all the L8 members participated in planning and discussion of shared experience and challenges.