The annual survey of the risk picture from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) contains a number of bright spots, including a positive trend for serious personal injuries.
Nevertheless, important findings from the RNNP study in 2016 give PSA director general Anne Myhrvold cause for concern.
“The survey results show that we’re on the right road in certain areas,” she says. “But I’m worried about developments for key parameters such as hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents.”
Major accident indicator worrying
Both hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents are important contributors to the trend shown by the overall indicator for major accidents, which is higher for 2015 and 2016 than in 2013-14.
In 2014, this indicator was at its lowest level since the RNNP measurements began in 2000. But it moved in a negative direction during 2015, and the 2016 result shows that the industry has failed to return to the 2014 level.
“It’s worrying that the major accident indicator for 2016 and 2015 is higher than for the two previous years,” says Myhrvold.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed a number of serious incidents in the Norwegian petroleum sector. Several of these could have developed into a major accident under marginally different circumstances.”
The serious well control incident on Songa Endurance on the Troll field in 2016 was one of the biggest contributors to the major accident indicator.
The RNNP survey is an important tool for measuring trends in the Norwegian petroleum sector. Myhrvold wants the industry to use the results it provides constructively and purposefully in their efforts to reduce risk and improve the level of safety.
“The requirement is continuous improvement, and that calls for a long-term approach and persistent attention,” she emphasises.
“Results are achieved when the industry joins forces and prioritises its commitment in selected areas. We have good examples from before, when positive projects have helped to reduce incidents in important risk areas.”
Myhrvold says that the PSA takes a positive view of the industry’s renewed commitment to cutting down the number of hydrocarbon leaks.
“A systematic commitment yields results. It’s important to ensure continuity in improvement efforts.
“Many good fora and meeting places exist today, and using these is also important in order to achieve real experience transfer and cross-industry learning. Good collaboration, both at industry level and between employers, employees and government, helps to strengthen safety.”
Myhrvold notes that the RNNP survey builds on historical data, and that the results primarily say something about what has happened, rather than what is to come.
“Good results are no guarantee against future incidents,” she warns, and points to the helicopter crash at Turøy near Bergen in April 2016 when 13 people died. This accident occurred the day after the 2015 RNNP report was presented, and highlighted the positive trend for helicopter safety.
Reversing the trend
The PSA’s main issue for 2017 is reversing the trend. During the year, it will be conducting a number of audits and projects directed at work by the companies in the areas of inter-party safety, standardisation and robustness.
“The past two years have been characterised by safety challenges and serious conditions,” Myhrvold observes. “We’ve seen growing pressure on basic aspects of the Norwegian safety regime. The goal of our main issue is to reverse this trend, and we’re expecting to see concrete results.”
Selected RNNP findings
Eleven hydrocarbon leaks larger than 0.1 kilograms per second (kg/s) were recorded in 2016 – the largest number since 2011. The contribution of such incidents to the overall indicator in 2016 was among the highest for years when no escapes exceeded 10 kg/s.
The relatively high contribution from leaks in 2016 reflects the fact that six incidents fell into the 1-10 kg/s category, with one of these in the topmost ranking at eight kg/s.
Well control incidents
A total of 14 well control incidents was registered in 2016, including 12 in the lowest risk category, one in the medium group and one ranked as very serious. All these incidents were related to production drilling, while none occurred with exploration wells.
The number of incidents per 100 production wells was at a relatively high level in 2016 compared with the previous five years, and ranked as the highest since 2010 – but not significantly so. The serious incident on Songa Endurance on the Troll field in the autumn of 2016 made the biggest contribution to the major accident indicator.
Personal injuries and accidents offshore
No fatal accidents occurred in the PSA’s area of authority on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) during 2016, but 13 people died on 29 April when a Super Puma helicopter crashed en route from Gullfaks B to Bergen Airport Flesland. This accident falls within the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority’s area of responsibility.
A total of 191 reportable personal injuries were registered on the NCS in 2016. Of these, 16 were classified as serious.
An injury frequency of 0.46 per million working hours for 2016 is the lowest registered for the 2000-16 period, while the serious personal injury frequency was below the expected level compared with the 10 preceding years. The trend from 2015 was particularly positive on mobile units.
The barrier indicators used in the RNNP study assesses the availability of barriers on the basis of test data from the industry. Where barrier elements covered by the indicators are concerned, a positive trend has been observable in recent years for those scoring below the industry’s requirements.
This suggests that the petroleum sector’s commitment related to barrier management in recent years is also yielding results in this area.
RNNP results from land-based plants
A number of serious individual incidents occurred at land-based petroleum plants in 2016, including events which resulted in serious personal injuries.
The RNNP indicators for these facilities show a decline in unignited hydrocarbon leaks, from 13 in 2015 to nine in 2016. While the serious personal injury frequency was on a par with 2015, the other indicators remains generally at a stable level.
The RNNP figures for acute emissions (RNNP-AU) are published in late September/early October.