August 19, 2010 / 7:45 PM / 10 years ago

Norway watchdog seeks better spill prevention

STAVANGER, Norway (Reuters) - Norway’s oil safety watchdog said on Thursday it was seeking improvements from the petroleum industry to prevent offshore blowouts and leaks in the wake of BP’s damaging U.S. oil spill.

Magne Ognedal, director general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, told Reuters in an interview that oil companies aiming to tap the riches of Norway’s Arctic waters will have to invest in additional safety measures.

“We asked the OLF (Norway’s oil industry lobby) to look into the possibility of developing equipment that could handle subsea blowouts regardless of water depths,” he said.

“They will need to look for better technologies to help detect a leak on subsea installations. We are looking for improvements in that area.”

The Nordic country is Europe’s second-largest energy exporter and already has some of the toughest safety regulations in the world.

Norway asks oil companies to have an additional safety device on a blow-out preventer — a measure not required in the United States but which many say would have prevented BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ognedal said an international meeting of oil safety watchdogs would be held in Washington DC on September 8-9 — on the initiative of his office — to address the blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Australia.

Ognedal added additional safety issues would need to be addressed in the Arctic waters off Norway, where oil firms are keen to tap oil and gas resources.

“There are special safety issues that need to be addressed (in the Arctic),” Ognedal said. “New equipment will need to be made available ... and we will need new designs for installations.”

Ognedal said firms would probably have to heat installations to keep sea spray from freezing on them and to provide better survival suits for staff in case of accidents.

Operating costs are likely to become more expensive where waters are deep and oil installations are remote or far from land, he said.

“If you are alone in an area, the emergency preparedness system could be more costly than further south.”

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Ognedal said the volume of requests for permits from the safety authority would probably increase in the years to come, as Norway seeks to attract an increasing number of small- and medium-size companies to conduct oil and gas activities.

That creates challenges, he said.

“Every time they want to perform a task, we have to ask, ‘Are they (small firms) competent to do it? Do they have the necessary capacity to handle the situation, including handling an accident?’

“Unfortunately a couple of times we have had to say no to companies because they are not competent,” Ognedal said. He did not provide any company names.

Overall the safety situation off Norway is “pretty good,” Ognedal said.

“The risk in the industry has been pretty steady generally,” he said. “Some things have improved and some things need to be improved.”

Ognedal cited ongoing work to reduce well leaks in the wake of a 2006 survey by his office that identified weaknesses at every fifth well offshore Norway.

“We don’t have a dramatic situation ... but the wells need to be improved,” he said.

Editing by Jane Baird; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid

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