In the summer of 2022, we conducted a survey of carcinogenic chemicals and compounds in the petroleum industry.

The companies were asked to provide information about the extent and use of carcinogenic chemicals in their specific cases, and which carcinogens may be released through work operations and processes on the various facilities offshore and onshore. The companies’ exposure risk management practices were also elucidated, with a particular focus on diesel exhaust and benzene.

The collected data have been compiled and presented in a report: “Carcinogenic chemicals in the petroleum industry” (in Norwegian only).

Risk picture

The survey has given us a better overview of how risks related to carcinogenic chemicals and compounds are distributed and managed in the industry. The risk picture is still ill-defined, although some clear trends are apparent.

The number of carcinogenic chemicals in use in individual companies is generally low, even if certain companies use distinctly more than others. The industry has been working for many years on the substitution and phasing out of carcinogens, which is probably now having an effect.

Formaldehyde on the agenda

Although the number of carcinogenic chemicals deployed is limited, the industry still uses large volumes of such chemicals. This is especially true in processing/production and drilling/wells, and largely concerns the elevated consumption of formaldehyde-releasing chemicals.

Some companies have already started work to map exposure to formaldehyde from such chemicals. Experience from our audits and the results of this study nevertheless indicate a need for more knowledge about potential formaldehyde exposure situations and formaldehyde exposure levels.

Assessment of risks

All personnel groups in the petroleum industry are reported as having the potential for contact with carcinogens at their workplace. But the exposure risk level varies between groups. Groups at particular risk include process operators and mechanics, as well as drilling and well service personnel.

The companies’ own risk assessments indicate that the highest exposure risk is associated with activities and processes where carcinogenic chemical components may be released. Benzene and diesel exhaust are mentioned by most companies in this respect, but welding fumes, cooking fumes, silica, NORMs/LARWs and formaldehyde are also mentioned.

It is apparent that the companies’ management of benzene risk appears to be more established and comprehensive than for other carcinogenic chemicals. This is probably due to the fact that benzene is a risk factor that affects several personnel groups, and that the industry has focused a lot of attention on this chemical over a number of years. Efforts are needed to establish similar systems for other relevant carcinogenic chemicals.