Good industry standards play an important role in the regulatory regime for Norway’s petroleum sector. The PSA is strengthening its commitment in this area during 2017.
Seeking a boost for standardisation
Standardisation has two aspects,” explains Sigve Knudsen, director of legal and regulatory affairs at the PSA. “One of these is the use companies make of such systematic rules.
“The other is the industry’s work on developing, maintaining and extending national and international standards. We’re seeing negative tendencies in both these areas.”
Standardisation is an area of special focus for the 2017 main theme of reversing the trend.
Where usage is concerned, the PSA has seen a substantial expansion in internal company specifications at the expense of national and international norms.
“We said two years ago that it’s possible in our view to achieve both efficiency gains and improved safety with the aid of documentation and standards,” Knudsen observes.
“Our documentation project also supplied much new and useful information. A number of companies interviewed made it clear that they see a big potential for improving the use of standards.
“The industry has initiated a number of important projects precisely to increase the utilisation of these sets of rules, both nationally and internationally.
“But our impression, after talking with company personnel, is that awareness about standards may not be sufficiently well entrenched with management.”
Regulations for Norwegian petroleum activities are largely framed as performance-based requirements, which specify the level of safety to be achieved. Many of them are supplemented by reference to industry standards and norms.
While the industry has been a front runner for work on and application of standards, the PSA is now seeing a trend which could threaten the norms underpinning its regulatory approach.
Turning to development of standards, Knudsen says the PSA is seeing a tendency to place great emphasis on cost efficiency. “Our concern is that this could affect technical content and level.
“A shift is also taking place in standards towards performance-based requirements at the expense of detailed specifications. That poses a possible threat to our regulatory regime, where the regulations refer to good norms.
“Detailed specifications will always be needed and, if too many of them go from the standards, they’ll either be moved up into the regulations or down into the companies. That’s not something we want to see.”
Collaboration between companies, unions and government has produced a regime in Norway where regulatory requirements refer in turn to national and international standards.
This development goes back many years, but everyone involved has always agreed that appropriate and updated yardsticks are very important if the regime is to function.
“It’s important that the companies prioritise devoting resources to standardisation, so the industry can secure the gains offered by appropriate and updated norms,” says Knudsen.
“Applying and having access to such rules promote cost-efficient solutions, new technology and good processes which are robust in safety terms.
“Making more use of standards helps to highlight when they need to be upgraded and, hopefully, to ensure that companies prioritise this work.”
Norway’s petroleum regulations currently refer to about 160 different industrial standards.
Provisions in the Norwegian regulatory regime for petroleum operations offshore and on land are primarily formulated as performance-based requirements.
These spell out the various aspects, properties or qualities which a product, a process or a service must possess.
Performance-based requirements specify what level of safety is to be achieved, but not how. Each player can thereby decide the specific way it will comply.
Guidelines to each regulation offer recommended solutions as a way of meeting the requirements, usually in the form of recognised norms such as industry standards.
“We’re a major consumer of these yardsticks,” explains Svein Anders Eriksson, who is coordinator of standards at the PSA. “A great many are referenced today in the regulations we enforce.”
Standardisation therefore represents an important job for the authority, and its technical experts participate in such work nationally, regionally and internationally.
“Our responsibility as the regulator is to help ensure that the industry has access to relevant standards in the petroleum sector,” Eriksson emphasises.
“These meet the need for detailed specifications which allow the users of our regulations to comply with the performance-based requirements.”
The industry standards referenced in Norway’s performance-based regulations are primarily developed by the sector itself. Their individual robustness depends on the companies joining forces to identify the best solutions.
That not only saves resources but also highlights the industry’s responsibility. The work is closely monitored by government, not least by having official observers on a number of standardisation committees.
In addition, the PSA assesses the suitability of each standard in relation to the level of safety which is to be achieved.