EU Approach on Safety of Offshore Platforms

Prevailing trends in the European oil industry, especially in the field of search, detection and extraction of hydrocarbon deposits (Upstream), show an increase of these activities in the coming years. The most – technological, institutional, business – advanced European North, has begun to decline after forty years of production and prepares … not just to pass the “baton” to the south, but to bring it themselves…

2013.06.13 - EU Approach on Safety of Offshore Platforms Figure 1

In front of the danger, of a major accident occurring on offshore oil extraction and / or natural gas installations within the waters of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the EU, it is important to take appropriate and timely measures to safeguard the operation of such facilities.

Realizing the lack of such infrastructure and expecting a growing rate of oil activity in the wider European area, including the EEZ of countries – members (see picture below), Brussels, through the European Parliament and the European Council proposed a set of regulations for the safety of offshore oil and gas exploration and production. These regulations have been developed so as to be included in an EU Directive, which will arrange the conformity of relevant law/regulations in the countries/members of the EU. This means that in order to achieve this purpose extensive work needs to be done taking into consideration applicable deadlines.

2013.06.13 - EU Approach on Safety of Offshore Platforms Figure 2

Of course, if the root causes of the unfortunate accident of the Deepwater Horizon had not been analysed then any possible weaknesses of the industry, regarding safety, would have not been highlighted.

2013.06.13 - EU Approach on Safety of Offshore Platforms Figure 3

Just to make a brief reference to the accident of the Deepwater Horizon in terms of general safety of the installation, it is worth mentioning that although personnel onboard the platform had identified significant deficiencies and malfunctions of machinery and equipment, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to convey their views to the senior executives of the company. Furthermore, the senior executives of the company acting under the scope of ensuring higher profits, preferred to ignore costly minor problems that could delay the platform’s operations. Such decisions set in motion a chain reaction that resulted to the Deepwater Horizon accident. To make things worse the scandal that was revealed regarding the considerable bonuses that employees had been offered the same year by Transocean further highlighted weaknesses of the industry. To make things clear such “gifts” were offered so as to shut the mouths of any involved employees and at the same time cover the responsibilities of the senior executives.

But apart from the bad practices mentioned above, the existing EU regulatory framework and operational arrangements do not ensure an efficient response to offshore platforms accidents. Moreover, responsibilities regarding the oil spill cleanup as well as relevant compensations that should be given are not clearly outlined, especially in areas with unclear EEZ.

The situation explained above and as experienced in an actual incident is adequate to understand the interest of the EU in compiling a regulatory framework for offshore oil and gas operations even after 40 years of intense activities and experience from the North Sea. The activities on the search for new oil and gas throughout the Mediterranean – especially after the results of the last year, as well as the extensive geophysical and geological studies which showed promising results – and in other areas, as shaped by their respective EEZ, is an overall situation and a reality that cannot and must not ignored anymore. Rest assured, that the EU began to be more interested, anticipating the burst of escalated activities with high capital intensive, which is expected to follow in the near future. Otherwise, why hadn’t they acted sooner? Besides, given the opportunity to work in both sides of the North Sea, England, and Norway, I am well aware of those countries relevant regulations which are considered very effective and of course they precede the EU initiative.

As a result of the above the EU was mobilized – maybe and as pretext of other strong interests – and introduced some basic principles upon which the proposal for regulation on safety of offshore oil and gas in the EU is based.

Further to the above the objective targets of such regulations, are presented below in summary:

  1. Ensuring a stable and specific ‘good practice’ for major accidents, through which all the operational activities of the oil and gas industry will be managed and controlled and could potentially affect all seas and coasts of the Union.
  2. Use of “best practices” that will govern the Regulations which will apply to all offshore oil & gas operations in the jurisdictions of the EU.
  3. Empower/Enhance possibilities for preparation and assignment of responsibilities of the Union to respond quickly to any possible threats.
  4. Improve and clarify the existing responsibilities of the EU, with a focus on giving relevant compensation from possible accidents.

After the development of these initiatives, it was evident to reconstruct the views/approach and strategies of European trade unions and to engage directly the mechanisms for effective action and participation in decision-making centers.

And for those who do not quite understand this move from the Trade Unions point of view, it is obvious that one of the most affected bodies were the unions, whose main responsibilities also include the safety of their registered employees.

The decisions were quick and decisive, since a representative body of all the powerful European Trade Union, including Norway, was immediately established and was named Industry All, with a permanent position in Brussels.

After a series of consultations and meetings organized by the Industry All, the Panhellenic Federation of Employees in Petroleum Refineries and Chemical Industry responded immediately, dispatching its representatives, giving me also the honor to personally attend its meetings.

Among other issues that will be analyzed below, the Greek representatives raised the issue regarding the transfer and availability of newly discovered gas, or gas that is expected to be discovered in the near future, in the south-eastern Mediterranean to Europe.

Such deposits, are much needed by the EU and they should be forwarded to EU members, before China (which has already demonstrated relevant interest), or other states, with specific suggestions for other possible routes, arrange for the implementation of their plans through powerful lobbying and therefore Greece would miss once again a great opportunity to become a considerable player on the energy market of the EU area.

Of course, based on the discussions held lately in technological, diplomatic, economic and political level, the solutions proposed by the Greek delegates were clear: transfer by any means (LNG, Subsea Pipelines, Tankers) via Greece to the south-east Europe, which cannot still depend only on supply solutions provided from Russia.

Discussions have begun between Cyprus and Noble Energy on where to direct the gas after its production.

Another important decision in terms of Unions, is the fact that they are more keen in creating a Directive (rather than number of restrictive regulations) as the most appropriate measure to allow the promotion of appropriate standards in the countries around the North Sea, to maintain their status-which in rule has proved successful-and also to enable the Mediterranean countries, to define their goals and make the appropriate and necessary arrangements so as to quickly acquire valuable expertise.

2013.06.13 - EU Approach on Safety of Offshore Platforms Figure 4

During a meeting in Brussels regarding the preparation of a proposal for the EU Offshore Authorities Group – (EUOAG) among others the following have been agreed:

  1. Establish Sub-Committee of south-east Europe which will manage all relevant issues for South and South-East Europe and the Mediterranean, since activities in the area have begun and are expected to increase in the next few years.
  2. Exchanged information should be diffused to all Europeans so as to have good cooperation with their respective National Committees.
  3. The overall actions required will be coordinated by the Management Committee Offshore EU, which met on December 4 of the last year.
  4. An education plan should be developed by the connoisseurs (England, Norway, Denmark), which should be characterized by high Standards, should be available to all Europeans and should operate on a continuous basis.
  5. A philosophy for managing the safety of workers on offshore platforms should be organized and disseminated.
  6. There should be clearly outlined for all stakeholders their area of work as well as their responsibilities.

It is also worth mentioning that on 21st of May the European Parliament adopted the proposal for a regulation on safety of offshore oil and gas prospection, exploration and production activities. According to this regulation contracts regarding offshore operations should be agreed on tripartite basis, meaning the company responsible for the offshore operations, the member state and the workers representatives (unions) should sign the contracts.

Closing this article, it is evident that the EU is paying special attention on the issue of offshore safety since extensive activities are expected in the Mediterranean area and therefore appropriate measures should be taken well in advance.

As a result an importance question arises: “Will Greece cope with due diligence what is being decided in Brussels regarding offshore activities,, so as to be able to acquire the technological and economical benefits that result from such activities?”

The article is written by Dr. Marios Patsoules, Geologist, Reservoir Engineer at Hellenic Petroleum S.A., member of the Greek delegation of the Industry All committee regarding the proposal for a regulation on safety of offshore oil and gas operations.

This article is the English translation of the original one published in Capital.gr and is reproduced here with the author’s kind permission.

Comments

  1. If the executives are only inrterested in profit, it is better to collect any bonus offered to the lower staff so as to survive financially in case the whole thing blows up.
    The grocer and the doctor ask for money, after all.

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