Giving priority to the far north has helped to increase knowledge about and the attention devoted to the challenges in that part of the NCS. This understanding must now be put into practice.
Learning must become doing
When the PSA introduced the far north as a new main priority, the industry was heading at full speed in this direction as a result of several key developments.
A boundary line treaty for the Barents Sea had been signed between Norway and Russia, the Storting (parliament) had voted to open Barents Sea South-East for petroleum activities, and the 23rd licensing round had put new acreage in these waters on offer.
“Great interest was being shown in far northern oil exploration,” observes Sigurd Robert Jacobsen, the PSA’s technical specialist on the Barents Sea.
“At the same time, we saw that the companies were heading into areas which could present new and more challenging conditions than they had faced earlier.”
These relate to technical and operational solutions, emergency preparedness, logistics, personal protective gear and garments, geography, and the availability of suitable rigs and equipment.
“Such challenges will increase as activity moves further from land and is conducted to a greater extent year-round,” Jacobsen notes.
The far north has been one of the PSA’s four main priorities in 2016. Now that the authority is concentrating on a single issue in 2017 – reversing the trend – the main priorities are being phased out.
The goal of the main priority has been to help ensure that petroleum operations on the northern NCS are pursued in a prudent way and safely for people, the environment and material assets.
“To achieve that, the companies need the necessary overview and control of the most important contributors to the risk of major accidents, environmental damage and occupational illness and injury,” Jacobsen emphasises.
“They must work diligently to assemble knowledge and learn lessons, and to develop and enhance robust technical and operational solutions.
“And, not least, they must cooperate. Knowledge sharing and collaboration between players at both national and international levels are crucial for prudent operation in the far north.
“We’ve made that clear in our contacts with companies and unions. Oil companies must join forces on operational concepts and equipment, and industry associations must seek joint solutions.”
Jacobsen identifies the Barents Sea exploration collaboration (Basec) as a good example. This brings together 17 operators who are exploring or planning such work in the Norwegian sector.
“It’s done good work on emergency preparedness for drilling,” he says. “Extending this cooperation will be advantageous, so that common approaches are adopted and further developed.
“Establishing collaboration should now be an industry goal in order to achieve synergies and joint solutions for developing and operating Barents Sea fields – preferably on the Basec model.
“Prioritising and maintaining work on standardisation and on constructing a common approach to the far north is important. This means the companies must devote more resources to such work.”
“We see that our work on the far north has been important, with positive effects,” Jacobsen affirms. “We’ll continue to devote attention to this part of the NCS, both through our own projects and by monitoring the industry’s operations.”
He emphasises that the level of activity in Norway’s Barents Sea sector is likely to be high, and that the PSA will prioritise its good collaboration with the companies there.
“In the future, we’ll be putting more emphasis on the responsibility of the industry to involve employees in its work on HSE in the far north.
“We’ve identified several specific projects where we see a need to learn more about future challenges facing activities on the northern NCS.
“On the basis of the work done by the industry and our own assessments, we’ve now been allocated additional funds which will allow us to continue studying relevant issues.
“We have a programme running from 2015-19 covering a total of 16 projects, and have the room to initiate more of these as and when required. Lessons from this work are shared with the industry.”
The PSA will continue working on the far north, and has clear expectations for the companies operating in this part of the NCS, says Finn Carlsen, its director of professional competence.
“The companies must seek a robust and integrated approach to northern challenges, and ensure that their activities are well planned in order to comply with the regulatory requirements.
“They have substantial expertise on these challenges and on the specific conditions which must be taken into account in the far north. It’s crucial that this know-how is applied to operations in the Barents Sea.”