PSA Answers Questions about Activities in Northern Areas

PSA Answers Questions about Activities in Northern Areas

The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has compiled a number of general and more complex questions about the petroleum activities in the northern areas, from a health, safety and environment perspective. Here are some of the Q&A

 1. Where are the northern areas?

The Norwegian Government’s strategy for the northern areas states the following geographical definition: land and sea areas from Sør-Helgeland in the south to the Sea of Greenland in the west and the Petsjora Sea (the southeastern corner of the Barents Sea) in the east.

The most relevant areas as regards the PSA’s area of authority are the northeastern parts of the Norwegian Sea and the southern and western parts of the Barents Sea.

2. What experience do we have with petroleum activity in these areas?

Petroleum activity off the coast of Northern Norway is not a new occurrence, neither for the industry nor for the authorities. The ”Snøhvit” gas field outside Hammerfest was proven in 1984, and production started in 2007.”Goliat”, with planned production start in 2013, will be the first producing oil field in the area.

The northern areas have also become even more relevant with the most recent discoveries, 7220/8-1 ”Skrugard” and 7220/7-1 ”Havis”, which seem likely to become the northernmost developments ever undertaken on the Norwegian shelf.

 3. Is higher risk associated with drilling activity in the Barents Sea?

Experience and knowledge show that the geology in the area is no more complicated to drill in than other locations on the shelf. The wells are generally shorter since the reservoirs are shallower. This means less time spent drilling, and robust well design is easier to achieve. Moreover, the reservoirs do not have high pressure, in contrast to certain other places in the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. Therefore, there is no elevated probability of an uncontrolled blow-out occurring in connection with drilling in the Barents Sea.

However, there is greater uncertainty in the directional measurement data so far north, due to the stronger magnetic fields near the poles.

 4. What are the safety challenges in the northern areas?

The northern areas, particularly the Barents Sea, are characterised by large distances, a lack of infrastructure, darkness and a tough climate including low air temperatures. This creates challenges in several areas, such as the working environment and emergency preparedness. If critical situations develop, the long distances and challenging climate make it harder and more time-consuming to evacuate personnel.

The harsh climate, with frigid temperatures and ice formation on equipment and surfaces, also has a greater impact on the working conditions for the personnel on the facilities than is the case in other places on the shelf.

 5. How does the cold affect the physical working conditions?

The harsh climate entails extreme exposure to cold. According to the report «Kalde utfordringer – helse og arbeidsmiljø på innretning i nordområdene» (Cold challenges – health and working environment on facilities in the northern areas) sickness or injury can occur as a direct consequence of exposure to cold, and the risk of work-related accidents is higher. Therefore, it is important that the industry is aware of and implements measures to offset the health problems associated with exposure in cold climates.

Good routines, winterisation of facilities and sufficient numbers of personnel who can trade off on work sessions outdoors are important factors for good working conditions in cold surroundings.

 6. What is winterisation?

Winterisation is adapting facilities, including equipment and workplaces, so that they can operate normally also in a severe winter climate. The most important and comprehensive measure is enclosing facilities, which entails additional challenges as regards the possibility of gas accumulation and explosion hazard.

Examples of winterized equipment includes heat-insulated pipes, work clothing specially designed for use in low temperatures, and better lighting during the polar night season.

 7. What are the most important measures to prevent harm to the external environment?

Petroleum activity in the northern areas has helped put the environment issue towards the top of the public agenda, with oil spill preparedness receiving particular focus. Although oil spill preparedness is an important barrier, it is important to emphasise that it is not our most important measure against environmental damage.

The most important contribution towards preserving the environment is to prevent. This is just as relevant in the north as on the rest of the shelf. Examples of such prevention include robust well design, good procedures, knowledge and well-suited facilities.

 8. How common are icebergs and drift ice in the Barents Sea?

The part of the Barents Sea that has been most relevant as regards the PSA’s exercise of authority is normally ice-free. However, on a couple of occasions, icebergs have been observed as far south as just off the coast of Finnmark County.

The NORSOK N-003 industry standard lists both a rough 100-year limit and a 10 000-year limit in relation to the likelihood of how far south icebergs will float. The Skrugard discovery, for example, lies within the 10 000-year limit for icebergs, and the Snøhvit and Goliat fields are located close to the 10 000- year limit.

 9. What measures exist against drift ice and icebergs?

Measures will have to be considered in the event of a development in areas within the limits for icebergs and drift ice. This could include designing the facilities to withstand a collision, or using subsea facilities with buried wellheads, xmas trees and pipelines, if applicable. Another option could be to tow away any icebergs on a collision course.

As regards mobile installations, another possibility is to disconnect from the rig and move it until the iceberg has passed.

 10. Are there special regulations for petroleum activity in the northern areas?

No. The HSE regulations in Norway apply to the entire shelf. The regulations are designed to be functional, which means that they do not specify solutions, but rather describe requirements as to what must be achieved.

In practice, this means that the special natural conditions in the north may demand different technical solutions than for areas farther south on the shelf. It is up to the companies to facilitate this.

Offshore Nieuws Staff, April 24, 2012; Image : Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA)