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Following up rig disaster is essential

Improvements are also needed in Norway’s petroleum industry after Deepwater Horizon. This is one of the main messages in the preliminary findings from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) on the Gulf of Mexico accident last year.

The status of follow-up work by the industry and the authorities after the major US accident were presented at an industry seminar in Stavanger on Friday 23 September.

Organised jointly by the PSA, the unions and the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF), this event assembled more than 200 participants from the petroleum sector. 

Presentations were given and thoughts conveyed by speakers from companies, unions, the OLF, research bodies and government agencies. See the programme in the right-hand margin.

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010 raised issues which concern an entire industry, national governments and international processes,” said Hilde-Karin Østnes.

She has headed the PSA’s extensive follow-up process in the wake of the incident, and emphasised that “findings from the accident are relevant to preventing major accidents in general”.

 “An overall lesson from the tragedy is that neither the petroleum industry or the government can be satisfied with the present position in Norway,” commented Øyvind Tuntland, director of professional competence at the PSA.

“Important conditions must be tackled and key processes launched. We’ll obviously apply the lessons from the disaster to make Norway’s petroleum sector ever safer and more robust. 

“That’ll help prevent new major accidents. Continuous improvement is and must be a fundamental principle for this industry.”

“Our Deepwater Horizon project aims to initiate measures which maximise the industry’s involvement in and commitment to work on cutting the major accident risk,” said PSA director-general Magne Ognedal. 

“That also involves learning from serious incidents. It’s gratifying that the industry is already pursuing opportunities for improvement.”

The PSA’s observations at this point in the follow-up process were summarised as follows at the seminar.
• The Deepwater Horizon accident shows a need to study and assess a number of measures which can also contribute to better management of major accident risk in Norway’s petroleum sector. These will affect many conditions, a number of disciplines and various players, organisations and arenas.

• No new or unknown underlying causal mechanisms or conditions have been identified in recently published investigation reports on Deepwater Horizon. A number of the underlying causes were the same as for the Montara blowout off Australia in 2010. The main findings of these inquiries also coincide with the PSA’s investigations into serious incidents in the Norwegian petroleum industry.

• The Deepwater Horizon accident cannot be confined to an incident affecting only BP, Transocean and Halliburton, deepwater drilling, blowouts and/or the Gulf of Mexico. This disaster affects all types of activity and all players in the national and international petroleum sector. And it must lead to improvements in the industry as a whole.

• The accident demonstrates the need for better risk management and processes which produce more robust solutions. These are ones with built-in safety margins, which enable operations to cope with human error, technical faults, operational non-conformities, unexpected and demanding conditions and so forth. Robust solutions help to ensure that technical conditions are identified and managed efficiently, and that sufficient time is available to bring a dangerous position under control. Requirements for robust solutions apply to technology, capacity, expertise, organisation and control in every phase.

Main topics
The PSA will focus on the following main topics in its continued Deepwater Horizon project. They are not listed in any order of priority.

Barrier management
A special note with the PSA’s clarifications on the issue of barrier management is under preparation and will probably be communicated to the industry this autumn. It will not contain new requirements, but specify how the PSA believes the regulations must be understood.

• A more integrated and uniform approach to barrier management in the petroleum industry needs to be developed.

• The industry could assume responsibility for such a commitment through the OLF, the Norwegian Shipowners Association and other key players.

Risk management
Where risk management is concerned, the need exists for an ambitious programme of studies and developments which establishes better tools for managing major accident risk. These should include methods, analyses, data, processes and so forth for assessing and describing risk in every phase of an operation. Established principles for risk management and understanding must be assessed.

• The industry could also be responsible for such a commitment through the OLF, the Norwegian Shipowners Association and other key players.

Organisation and management
Management at all levels in the industry needs to become involved in the work of reducing major accident risk.

• Initiatives and decisions by company managements define and influence operating parameters which are significant for major accident risk. The companies must focus on building a culture which gives even greater emphasis to safety considerations in the business.

• Established practice for entering into contracts and their content should be questioned, for example. Is major accident risk taken sufficiently into account?

• A good safety culture is partly characterised by the companies accepting a collective responsibility for improvements in safety-critical areas through a visible and ambitious commitment in established fora.

Regulations and standardisation
Follow-up of regulations and standardisation in Norway must have both national and international perspectives – and be seen in relation to existing work on regulatory development.

• Existing principles must be extended, in part by ensuring that possible changes to Norwegian regulations are assessed on the basis of their potential (positive or negative) effect on safety and on the context in which they are intended to function.

• The industry must prioritise a commitment to and involvement in the established work programme for updating standards.

• A need has been identified for updating the Norsok D-001 and D-010 standards which currently provide the norms for drilling and well requirements on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS).

Capping and containment
• Work has been launched to develop effective capping and containment solutions which can halt and/or divert the wellstream as quickly as possible in the event of a blowout. These efforts must be given high priority and closely monitored by the authorities, including the PSA.

• The PSA is monitoring the development of equipment, plans, proposals for standards and so forth, and evaluating necessary adjustments to the regulations – such as requirements for consent applications, emergency preparedness and well control.

• In connection with capping and containment, the PSA is in a dialogue with the OLF and the Subsea Well Response Project Group established by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) after the Deepwater Horizon accident.

Blowout preventers (BOPs)
• Experience from the Deepwater Horizon incident reinforces the importance of applying modern barrier principles in order to integrate safety in BOP designs for both fixed installations and mobile units.

• BOP integrity and operational issues presented by well control are being followed up through the PSA’s participation in the International Regulators’ Forum (IRF).

• The OGP and the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) will give a status report on this work during the IRF conference in Stavanger on 4-5 October (see link).

The way ahead
The first stage of the PSA’s Deepwater Horizon report was published on 16 June (see link in the right-hand margin). This document contains some 70 recommendations of various kinds and levels of detail.

This sub-report will be updated with new information during the autumn and next spring. That includes incorporating the findings of the recently published Joint Investigation Report from Boemre, the PSA’s counterpart in the USA, and the US Coast Guard. A preliminary review of this document moreover shows that it supports the principal issues identified by the PSA project to date.

The PSA will continue to give priority to work with Deepwater Horizon during the autumn on the basis of the picture which is gradually emerging of the disaster. Priorities set by the authorities will be incorporated in the PSA’s activity plan for 2012.

The goal is to present the PSA’s full report on Deepwater Horizon next spring.