Question 1: What are the main HSE challenges facing offshore oil and gas operations in your region? Do you think these differ from other areas of E&P globally?

Jane Cutler: Australians have the expectation that a vibrant and growing national offshore petroleum industry should also be a safe industry. Tragedies such as Macondo in the Gulf of Mexico and incidents like the blow-out of the Montara wellhead platform in the Timor Sea highlight the realities of a high-hazard industry and the potential for loss of life.

Australia has an extensive coastline and a relatively small population. Many of the oil and gas activities are located offshore in remote areas, away from infrastructure and other support facilities. Logistics in the event of an incident can provide significant challenges compared with E&P areas in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, where there are extensive facilities available.

Like other E&P areas globally, the petroleum industry is under greater scrutiny as a result of recent incidents. Community expectations are high with regards to environmental performance, especially in remote areas near the pristine Australian coastline.

Raphael Moura: The main HSE technical challenge associated with the Brazilian oil and gas industry is the development of pre-salt reserves in ultra-deepwater environments, which requires adequate drilling technology to surpass the layer of salt under high pressure and at high temperatures.

"There were no fatalities in the offshore activities regulated by the HSE in 2010/11 – the fourth year running". Steve Walker

A sophisticated infrastructure will also be needed to transport the produced hydrocarbon to shore; however, I believe that many HSE aspects are common to other regions, such as the improvement of the overall risk perception, the development of proactive safety performance indicators and the implementation of better contingency capabilities. Consequently, it is important to maintain a consistent regulatory framework that is capable of absorbing quick changes in technology while challenging the industry to improve operations.

Magne Ognedal: Great attention has also been paid in Norway to the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon. Although the level of safety in this country is generally good, it is obvious that improvements are also needed in its petroleum industry.

The 2010 study of risk-level trends in the Norwegian petroleum activity (RNNP) shows a sharp rise in well-control incidents and gas leaks back at a high level. The Norwegian petroleum industry has paid great attention over the past decade to reducing the number of hydrocarbon leaks, and has established clear reduction targets on several occasions. It’s very important that the industry comes up with good measures for reversing this development. Our goal is continuous improvement – it’s a matter of concern that the major accident indicator isn’t moving in a positive direction.

Steve Walker: The many aging assets on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) are likely to remain in operation for the foreseeable future, with a significant proportion of offshore installations having already exceeded their original design life. These present particular and increasing challenges to the continued delivery of appropriate standards of major hazard risk control. With the long-promised decommissioning of the UKCS offshore infrastructure proving slow to take off, the industry still needs to be encouraged to maintain its focus on the control of major accident hazards, particularly in uncertain times.

There were no fatalities in the offshore activities regulated by the HSE in 2010/11 – the fourth year running – and a fall in the number of major injuries. The combined fatal and major injury rate fell to 151.8 per 100,000 workers, compared with 192 in 2009/10, continuing an overall downward trend. Similarly, the continued fall in the number of minor injuries led to a historical low over-three-day injury rate. Major and significant hydrocarbon releases (HCRs) were significantly reduced compared with 2009/10; however, this only maintains the annual average rate over the previous five years, and the industry is finding it difficult to break through this particular plateau.

Question 2: Given high-profile health and safety lapses in the industry over the past few years, are you seeing a shift in priorities for operators in your region when it comes to HSE, or is change driven by the regulator?

JC: There is a need for a shared commitment by governments, regulators and industry to take meaningful steps to avoid incidents like Montara and Macondo in the future, and that this objective can only be achieved if they work together to promote ongoing improvement in skills development, competence and a culture of compliance.
The recent International Offshore Petroleum Regulators and Operators Summit also reaffirmed the critical role of an independent, well-resourced regulator to challenge industry to be rigorous in its operations practices, and prevention and mitigation techniques. At a practical level, this means holding regular liaison meetings with facility operators to communicate the regulatory requirements, while meetings with senior management further reinforce the importance of safety performance and highlight any areas of concern.

With the passing of the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Amendment (National Regulator) Bill 2011, NOPSA’s portfolio has broadened further to make it the authority on offshore environmental management practices, becoming the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) as of 1 January 2012 in order to reflect these new areas of regulation. In reality, this means a more consistent approach to ensuring compliance with the regulations.

" There is a need for a shared commitment by governments, regulators and industry to take meaningful steps to avoid incidents like Montara and Macondo. Jane Cutler "

RM: There are many leading drivers of change that affect actual HSE priorities. First of all, we experienced a strong reaction from society to recent accidents, regardless of the affected country or region. In my view, it is the first indication that the bar was raised and that oil companies must be aware that safety improvements are vital for the worldwide stability of the oil and gas industry.

It is clear that regulators play a major role in this matter and must challenge the operators to improve operations, but it is not a simple task and cannot be a sole endeavour. Only a well-resourced regulator that is empowered by the state, as well as recognised and respected by the industry, would be able to address the expected advancements.

MO: The PSA takes the view that the level of attention devoted to safety by the companies in Norway is relatively stable. During the past 18 months, there has clearly been a great deal of debate about the major accident in the Gulf of Mexico. I would otherwise point out that safety work in the Norwegian petroleum industry is based on collaboration between companies, unions and government. These three parties sit together in established forums that address the overall challenges facing the industry.

SW: The implications of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 continue to reverberate through the global industry. Offshore oil and gas exploration and production activity has a much higher media and political profile than before, both for the industry and for OSD as the offshore safety regulator. OSD has responded to the regulatory and wider stakeholder challenges arising from Deepwater Horizon across a variety of work streams.

OSD engages with movers and shakers in the industry in a variety of ways, with the intention of avoiding catastrophic events and promoting the importance of asset integrity. The three-year Key Programme 4 (KP4) concentrates on ensuring that risks to asset integrity due to aging and life extension are adequately managed and ensures that the future condition of offshore assets are adequately anticipated in asset management regimes/approaches.

Question 3: Are there any regions where you believe not enough is being done to tackle these safety lapses?

"Producing countries should get closer and work hard to improve the industry globally. Ralph Moura"

JC: Over the years many incidents have reminded us that major incidents causing loss of life and environmental damage can happen again, can happen anywhere and can happen to anyone.

No country has a flawless system and it is up to individual operators and regulators alike to be vigilant in their compliance with offshore health and safety, well integrity and environmental management regulations in order to minimise the risk of incidents.

RM: Regions across the globe have their own challenges related to the maturity of industry, availability of resources, the state organisation as well as geographical and geological characteristics. The efforts applied to tackle safety matters are highly dependent on those particular issues, and it would be difficult to point out lapses without a detailed evaluation of procedures, methods and arrangements.

The important thing is that producing countries should get closer and work hard to improve the industry globally, exchanging information and learning from each other.

Question 4: What international cooperation takes place among the HSE community to ensure best practice is followed across the globe?

JC: We often look to the northern hemisphere for guidance in this area, it being the location where the majority of offshore petroleum operations are located. The International Regulators’ Forum (IRF), of which NOPSEMA is a member, is a group of independent national health and safety regulators in the offshore upstream oil and gas industry. It drives improvements in health and safety, through collaboration in joint programmes and information sharing.

"The PSA assumes that the industry applies best practice in its operations. Magne Ognedal"

The 2012 IRF annual meeting will be hosted by the National Agency of Oil, Gas and Biofuels (ANP) in Brazil and the 2013 meeting and conference will be hosted by NOPSEMA in Perth, Australia. In the future, NOPSEMA will continue to engage with international authorities and global companies to remain at the forefront of best practice.

RM: Nowadays, many mutual collaboration processes are being conducted across the globe, most of them motivated by the Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010. Industry recognised the need to review procedures and guidelines, and even to build equipment to handle particular accident scenarios, and I believe that good local and worldwide solutions are being developed properly. Representative groups such as the European Commission, the G-20, and the bilateral collaboration between Brazil and the US are also discussing improvements to be addressed.

However, even though all initiatives are welcome and valid, the development of a consistent safety culture requires a long-term cooperation process, and the dialogue must be permanent. That is the reason why I believe the International Regulator’s Forum is a valuable and effective network for information exchange, where ten countries are represented and fully engaged on discussing safety tendencies and on the dissemination of best practices. The IRF countries are also supporting standardisation bodies to achieve globally agreed offshore standards, an important step forward to harmonise worldwide operations.

MO: Operators and other companies involved in the Norwegian petroleum industry naturally belong to relevant organisations, forums and associations. The PSA assumes that the industry applies best practice in its operations – and maintains a focus on continuous improvement.