Prior to the 1972 decision, there had been a nascent petroleum industry on the Norwegian Continental Shelf as early as the mid-1960s. Clear-sighted politicians and civil servants understood that this would grow into something substantial and important for Norway, and that it was essential to establish sound national governance of the activities.

Clear roles

The politicians were concerned with achieving a clear division of responsibilities. The parliamentary decision therefore established a "trinity" of roles:

Parliament and the Government would set out the political framework for the activities

  • the national oil company Statoil would cater for the State's financial interests in the petroleum activities
  • the Directorate would be the Government's technical advisor and supervise the companies' fulfilment of their obligations.
  • There is no doubt that this clear division of responsibilities has been a critical success factor both in resource management and safety administration of the Norwegian petroleum activities.

New industrial sector

The petroleum activities represented a brand new business sector in Norway. When it came to developing a public sector supervisory body, there was little to build on. Many countries had used the regulatory framework of their mining industries as a basis for petroleum operations. Given that the petroleum activities in Norway were to take place at sea, it was however more natural to build on our venerable traditions as a seafaring nation.

Since exploration drilling was performed from floating facilities, it was normal to consider these as a form of ship, and the Norwegian Maritime Authority was accordingly an important supervisory body for these vessels. The role of the NPD was initially restricted to supervising safety within the petroleum activities that took place on the facilities.

When the first fixed production facilities were put into place, these were also considered to be a form of maritime facility, and the Maritime Authority conducted audits of maritime equipment, such as lifeboats on board the facilities.

Coordinated bodies

In the same way, various agencies had independent supervisory roles. The Norwegian Coastal Administration audited marking and maritime signals, the Civil Aviation Administration supervised helicopter decks, and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute oversaw the collection of weather data and so forth. A number of other bodies had similar independent roles, notably the pollution authorities and the health authorities.

The accident on the Alexander L Kielland accommodation facility, in which 123 people lost their lives, created a turning point in the organisation of the regulatory regime for petroleum activities.

In 1985, the NPD was assigned a coordinating role for offshore petroleum activities. Many of the agencies which had previously had independent supervisory authority were now to be assisting agencies for the NPD. This meant that the NPD acquired formal regulatory authority in these areas, and that the former supervisory bodies were to give the NPD technical assistance in their area of speciality as required.

Some authorities continued to perform independent supervision under other legislation. These were the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (now the Norwegian Environment Agency), the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision and the Norwegian Radio Protection Authority. In respect of these, the NPD was to have a coordinating role. This role did not allow decisions by these agencies to be overruled or set aside, but the arrangement was intended to ensure that the agencies acted consistently and without conflicting regulatory requirements.

The accident on the Alexander L Kielland accommodation facility, in which 123 people lost their lives, created a turning point in the organisation of the regulatory regime for petroleum activities. The date of 27 March 1980 has marked the petroleum industry ever since, and the accident has been hugely significant for the development of safety on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. (Photo: ©Helge Sunde/Samfoto/NTB scanpix)

This new organisation was well-received by the companies who thereby had just a single authority to interface with. The NPD was responsible for coordinating the involvement of the other authorities when processing applications and so forth.

The scheme was also resource-efficient for the authorities, partly in that it avoided unnecessary duplication of effort but also because the NPD did not need its own technical expertise where this was available from the other specialist agencies.

Creation of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway

At the end of 2002, the Government decided to split the NPD into two independent agencies. The section of the Directorate that administrated safety and the working environment was to be organised into a new agency, to be named the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA). The change went live as of 1 January 2004.

The new agency was to report to what was then the Ministry of Government Administration and Labour. This entailed no change, since before the split the NPD already reported to two places: to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy on matters relating to resource management, and to the Ministry of Labour on safety and working environment issues.

This bilateral reporting was already reflected in the NPD's organisation into a resource division and a safety and working environment division. In practice, therefore, the PSA essentially comprised the latter of these two.

Developments continue

Even before the split from the NPD in 2004, the Trends in risk level in the petroleum activity (RNNP) project had been set up. This became an instrument which greatly facilitated targeted use of the PSA's resources in order to reduce risk in the petroleum activities. RNNP is a product of the tripartite cooperation, and the companies and employees also make use of the reports' results in their safety work.

Since its creation in 2004, the PSA has worked systematically to utilise its resources to best effect, by directing its efforts to where the potential reward in terms of reducing risk is greatest. Focused supervisory activity based on good planning is key to this, and the PSA has worked constantly – as it continues to do – to enhance its internal management system for activities relating to regulatory development and supervision.