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RNNP: Acute spills 2001 – 2014

The Trends in risk level in the petroleum activity - Acute spills (RNNP-AU) report for 2014 shows that targeted safety work is a prerequisite for preventing acute spills.

Trends in risk level in the petroleum activity - Acute spills (RNNP-AU) is an extension of Trends in risk level in the petroleum activity (RNNP).

RNNP-AU is one of the instruments that the PSA is using to achieve necessary oversight of safety challenges in the petroleum activity. Instead of assessing risk to personnel, as the RNNP report does, this report assesses risks of incidents that may lead to acute spills. 

Figures from Trends in risk level in the petroleum activity - Acute spills (RNNP-AU) show that the number of acute spills of crude oil and the number of near-misses that could have produced acute oil spills declined in the period 2001-2014. The fall occurred against an increase in the number of oil-producing facilities on the Norwegian Continental Shelf in the same period.

"The trend is a positive one, but in this period we did not observe any reduction in the volume of actual or potential spillages. This gives cause to debate the effect of the barriers in preventing acute spills and staunching the development of incidents", says Finn Carlsen, technical  director at the PSA.

The figures also show that the reduction in the number of actual acute crude oil spills in the period was more evident in the North Sea than in the Norwegian Sea. The trend in the number of near-misses is also more uniformly positive in the North Sea, whereas the Norwegian Sea saw greater fluctuations.

The annual volume of crude oil spillage in the North Sea increased substantially in 2014. This is due to three recorded incidents in the 10-100 tonne spill category, of which two were among the 10 largest acute oil spills in the period 2003-2014. Both the incidents were spills of produced oil from the drainage systems of older facilities. One of the facilities was approaching shutdown.

The PSA investigated both incidents:

Report of the investigation into a hydrocarbon leak on Statfjord C

Report of the investigation into an oil spill on the Eldfisk complex

Three acute oil spills of this magnitude in a single year had not previously been recorded in the North Sea.

Acute chemical spills dominate
Acute chemical spills are the dominant type of spill and are often greater than 1 m3 in volume. Around 25% of acute chemical spills are greater than 1 m3, based on combined data from 2001 onwards.

The number of acute chemical spills on the Norwegian Continental Shelf has fluctuated around a relatively stable level throughout the period since 2001. The trend since 2009 has been one of less variation around a high level.

Comparing the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea for the period, we can see that the spill volume per facility year is more than twice as large in the Norwegian Sea (9.3 m3 in the Norwegian Sea against 3.99 m3 in the North Sea).

"The results show that prevention of acute chemical spills is a safety issue that deserves attention", says Carlsen.

"At the same time, the RNNP main report indicates that personnel risk as a result of chemical exposure also demands attention. This demonstrates some of the breadth of challenges associated with the use of chemicals in the petroleum industry, and the importance of looking at safety, environmental and health aspects in correlation."

The Barents Sea
In 2013 and 2014, there were more acute spills in the Barents Sea than in previous years. There was a marked increase in activities in the region in this period.

"Petroleum activities in the High North will increase in the years ahead – on both the Norwegian and foreign shelves. Key decisions will be taken about activities in the High North in the near future, and with this in mind it is important to address the safety challenges specific to these areas", says Carlsen.

"In practice, activities in the Barents Sea will involve the same participants, with the same experience, expertise and technologies as on other parts of the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Experiences from the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea may therefore tell us something about how the industry might operate in the Barents Sea. Results from RNNP-AU for the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea may therefore be useful for discussing safety issues in the High North too."