Photo ofRobert Eriksson

Saving safely



Labour and social affairs minister Robert Eriksson sees no contradiction between cutting costs and being a world leader in HSE for the petroleum sector.

“It’s important to stress that maintaining such leadership remains the government’s objective,” says Eriksson. He belongs to the Progress Party, one of the two members of the minority coalition which took office after the 2013 general election.

“This ambition has been an important signal to the industry that it should go to considerable lengths in its day-to-day work to achieve continuous safety improvements.

“At the same time, a good and thorough assessment of consequences, costs and benefits is required for proposed regulatory requirements and follow-up measures in this area, as in all other fields of government regulation.”

Responsibility

“Safety has the highest priority,” emphasises the minister, who has overall responsibility for safety and the working environment in the petroleum sector.

“The government’s vision is that Norway’s petroleum sector will lead the world for HSE. At the same time, we’re skilled – and will be even more so – at finding good and safe solutions which are cost-effective.”

He points to the political platform of the coalition headed by Conservative Erna Solberg, where one goal is to work for a reduction of costs on the NCS.

“These represent a big challenge, and we’ve adopted a broad and integrated approach to following it up. This’ll be pursued on a long-term basis over a broad range of issues.”

Collaborate

“Government and industry must collaborate if we’re going to succeed in reducing costs,” Eriksson says. “And the industry holds the most important key here.

“It’s fully aware of this, and we see the point has been taken fully on board. At the same time, we’re concerned to establish what the government can do.”

His ministry has launched a project to identify good ways to analyse of consequences, costs and benefits when proposing HSE requirements and measures in the petroleum sector.

This will also produce proposals on how the decision base in the civil service can be strengthened, which involves following up recommendations from the Åm [1], Reiten [2] and Engen [3] committees.

“When seeking to save money, we must manage to think costs and solutions in both immediately and in the long term,” Eriksson points out.

“Solutions which seem simpler and cheaper right now could prove more expensive down the road – if they also involve a reduction in safety, and more frequent and extensive maintenance.

“I’m concerned to ensure that the robustness of the Norwegian HSE regime is preserved, while efforts are made to reduce the level of costs.”

Long-term

“The industry must work long-term and uninterruptedly to improve safety,” Eriksson observes. “Although the curves have pointed in the right direction for a number of years, a high level of safety can’t be taken for granted.”

He points out that the level of safety on the NCS has been high for many years, as confirmed most recently by April’s RNNP figures on trends in risk level in the petroleum activity.

“It’s particularly gratifying that the major accident indicator showed good progress, and was at its lowest-ever level. However, some of the findings give grounds for concern.

“Continued challenges in barrier management, despite being highlighted year after year as one of the biggest risk factors in Norway’s petroleum sector, were a source of particular worry.”

Eriksson notes that the PSA has said this is not good enough – last year, the year before and in 2014. The barrier indicators show big differences between facilities offshore and on land.

“That’s been so for the past decade. These are safety-critical barriers which fail to satisfy requirements. It’s not good enough that companies in our petroleum sector know barriers aren’t up to scratch and do nothing about it.

“We must be able to expect a rapid improvement in this area. Even though the RNNP figures show a low level of risk overall, we’re all well aware that petroleum operations pose a big hazard for people and the environment.

“These activities generate big revenues, but injuries and ill-health also carry a cost – for the industry, society and the individual.”

Strict standards

“Petroleum operations in new areas must be combined with strict standards for safety, the environment and emergency response as well as for co-existence with other industries,” labour and social affairs minister Robert Eriksson says.

“A high level of safety and a robust HSE regime are especially important when activity is now moving further north – partly because some of these areas are particularly challenging from a safety perspective, and partly because they’re highly vulnerable to pollution.”

He points out that the Norwegian government is collaborating with the other countries in the far north through the Arctic Council on an action plan to combat oil pollution there.

“Increased cooperation and exchange of information are important. Collaboration between companies, unions and government to close gaps in our knowledge of far northern challenges is an example of an important project which will help to ensure that operations in this region can also be pursued safely.”



Footnotes

[1] Committee of experts appointed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, chaired by Knut Åm. Reported in 2010 on improved recovery from the NCS.

[2] Committee of experts appointed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, chaired by Eivind Reiten. Reported in 2012 on increased drilling and well activity on the NCS.

[3] Committee of experts appointed by the Ministry of Labour, chaired by Ole Andreas Engen. Reported in 2013 on supervision strategy and HSE regulations in the Norwegian petroleum industry.