What happens to safety when much of the attention is concentrated on savings and cuts? Is Norway’s largest industry at a crossroads which challenges the ambition of improvement and risk reduction?
Is safety at risk?
Most people believe that the petroleum sector’s current focus on enhancing efficiency and reducing costs will persist for some time to come.
“The industry is challenged by low oil prices,” acknowledges Anne Myhrvold, director general of the PSA. “Costs were very high for a time. So the new reality, with its big budget cuts, contrasts sharply with the years when all the curves were rising.”
Norway’s oil and gas sector is currently experiencing downsizing and major organisational changes. Experienced personnel are leaving, and could be lost for ever.
The process is so rapid that it can be difficult to keep up. Companies are under pressure to maintain production for as long as possible without compromising on the demand for prudent operation.
“We don’t accept a development which abandons the ambition for continuous improvement,” Myhrvold emphasises. “Several signals in recent months have indicated that it’s time to call a halt and analyse what’s happening.
“The companies must manage risk in their operations every single day. Working together, we’ll develop a sector which learns lessons and is focused on preventing major accidents.
“Times like these put the industry to the test. Challenges must be tackled and owned by the companies, the unions and the government. Everyone must get involved – that’s the only way we’ll succeed.”
Myhrvold accepts that it could be tempting is such conditions to turn to quick fixes, but stresses that short-termism both can and will bring its own punishment.
“If the petroleum sector fails to look ahead, both individual companies and industry as a whole will be penalised,” she emphasises.
“We’re concerned to apply a long-term view in our own assessments and decisions on such issues as design selection, technical quality, organisational considerations and overall spin-offs from the choices made.
“In parallel with that, the companies must be certain that the decisions they make today also lay the basis for prudent operation down the road.”
Myhrvold thereby makes it clear that the players cannot compromise on safety-related considerations, and adds that both the Storting (parliament) and the government want Norway to be a world leader for health, safety and the environment (HSE).
She notes moreover that an adaptable sector will be a strong one. “An industry which is unable to change isn’t one with a future.”
“Although petroleum operations in Norway are at a crossroads in many respects, we must jointly ensure that changes don’t affect safety work,” Myhrvold concludes.
“I’m convinced that it’s possible to work along two axes simultaneously – saving money through more efficient operation while strengthening the commitment to enhancing HSE.”
Hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents are important contributors to major accident risk. Ten hydrocarbon leaks greater than 0.1 kilograms per second were registered on the NCS in 2015.
This is the largest number recorded since 2011. The corresponding figure on land was 13, up from seven in 2014. The contribution to the overall indicator in 2015 was on the high side.
The 15 well control incidents registered in 2015 represent a slight decline from 17 the year before, but a rise in the risk potential. None of the incidents fell into the very serious category.
Barriers continue to worry
Results for barrier management also show that the companies face challenges in meeting the industry’s own requirements in certain areas.
"Although no direct relationship can be demonstrated between the RNNP findings and the changes being experienced by the industry, it is important to see these results as representative for a trend."
Rise in serious personal injuries
The number of serious personal injuries rose in 2015, when Norway also suffered its first fatal accident offshore since 2009. This incident occurred on 30 December, when a wave hit mobile unit COSLInnovator and caused substantial damaged to the quarters module. One person was killed.
A parallel development has also been witnessed at the land-based plants, where the level of serious accidents was the third highest since measurements began in 2006.