They may operate with different frameworks, regulations and cultures, but the 10 members of the International Regulator’s Forum (IRF) present a united front on reducing risk.
This informal but nonetheless important body brings together agencies which regulate safety in the offshore oil and gas industry in various countries and provinces worldwide.
The PSA has been a member since the forum was established in 1994.
Cooperation between safety regulators in the various countries was limited until the mid-1990s, explains PSA special adviser Odd Bjerre Finnestad.
“We undoubtedly felt that each of us sat on our own little patch and concentrated on our own jurisdictions,” says the man responsible for the agency’s day-to-day contact with the IRF.
“One result was that the authorities in the various countries developed varying types of regime and regulations, and had different approaches to supervision.
“However, the industry – and to some extent the unions – had formed international organisations at an early stage to protect their interests.
"A number of safety regulation found that these bodies could exert pressure on them by reporting that other countries imposed less onerous requirements for their operations.”
Together with PSA director-general Magne Ognedal, Mr Finnestad has been an important driving force in developing the international collaboration.
A 1994 meeting held at the annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, Texas, kicked off a closer collaboration over safety regulation.
“In the space of an hour or so, the US, Canadian, British and Norwegian regulators agreed to set up an informal forum to discuss and exchange information,” explains Mr Finnestad.
Other countries have subsequently joined, and the IRF’s membership is now drawn from nine countries. But the motive has remained unchanged.
This is to keep each other updated and informed, share experience, compare regulatory methods and assess safety levels in the various member states.
The IRF facilitates the exchange of ideas and opinions on methods applied and principles for effective supervision of safety and the working environment.
Swapping facts about regulatory activities and information on relevant technical issues, development of regulations and so forth is also part of its remit.
Within the opportunities and constraints which apply in each country, this helps to promote mutual understanding among the members over the regulator’s role, use of instruments, regulatory methods, expertise development and relations between government and industry.
Mr Ognedal has followed the progress of the IRF closely since 1994, and believes it is important both as a meeting place and as an information channel.
“The many discussions and debates conducted through the IRF have been informative and constructive, and have provided valuable insight into regulatory systems in other countries and current issues in regulation,” he says.
“We’re part of a global industry, and being familiar with conditions in other comparable countries is accordingly very useful.
“That applies to the meeting with the oil companies, in international contexts, and in relation to our duties in the Norwegian petroleum industry.”
The annual meetings represent the core of the IRF collaboration. Every twothree years, the forum also stages an International Regulators’ Off shore Safety Conference.
Open to all, the latter attracts civil servants from countries which have or are planning offshore oil and gas operations, and representatives from everyone involved in the industry.
The most recent IRF conference took place in Vancouver, Canada, last autumn, at the end of a very hectic year for the IRF.
Much attention was levelled at Australia’s West Atlas/Montara accident in the Timor Sea during 2009 and the helicopter crash off eastern Canada in the same year, with 17 fatalities.
The biggest impact nevertheless came from the Deepwater Horizon incident on the Macondo prospect in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010.
That disaster shook the world. Eleven people died, many more were injured and a major oil spill followed. It demonstrated the risk presented by oil operations with full clarity.
All the IRF’s member countries had to re-prioritise their work in order to follow developments and decide whether changes were needed to their regulations and regulatory practice.
In the wake of Deepwater Horizon, the IRF has resolved to continue pursuing important issues such as safety culture and management, and assessing the functionality of blowout preventers (BOPs).
The development of indicators to measure each member country’s HSE performance is also on the agenda.
So are preparing the necessary acceptance criteria for company expertise and capacity, and last – but not least– the selection of the best standards and best practice.
Responsibility for studying these matters has been divided up between the members, who will in turn approach the parties involved to find good solutions.
IRF in brief
A central place in the global arena is occupied by the International Regulators’ Forum (IRF), which currently embraces Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the UK and the USA.
As an informal body, it has neither an elected leadership nor its own administrative staff . But that does not mean the IRF is without international influence.
Over the years since its creation in 1994, it has established itself as a selfevident partner for other influential interest organisations.
The forum currently comprises the heads of 10 independent safety regulators for the upstream off shore oil and gas industry. All have the authority to account for their country’s operational, technical, strategic and political conditions.
In addition, they have full access to relevant information from their own country/province, which helps to ensure meaningful debate.
Decisions which serve as guidance for the members are adopted unanimously
This article was published in the publication "Safety - status and signals 2010-2011".