Chronicle of Norwegian emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations by the Emergency Response Director of the Norwegian Coastal Administration, Johan Marius Ly.
Many people remember the uncontrolled blow out at the “Bravo” platform in the North Sea in 1977. Some people also remember the hero of the moment, Red Adair, flown in to stop the spill. For those of us who work with emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations, the Bravo accident marks the beginning of the strengthening and development of Norwegian emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations.
Today, more than 40 years later, it is natural to pose questions on where we stand today, and look at the current state of our emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations from a perspective in the future. Norway can, and should be, a world-leader in oil recovery operations.
Our statistics show that each week there are between one and two groundings of vessels along the Norwegian coast. Most of these groundings, fortunately, do not cause oil spills, with the vessel usually being saved without any noteworthy drama. However, this has not always been the case.
From 1970 through 1979, on an annual global basis, there was an average of 24.5 oil spills from vessels with volumes exceeding 700 tons. From 2010 to 2015, we had an average of 1.8 corresponding spills each year. This reduction shows very clearly that increasing environmental awareness, international regulations and preventive measures have indeed had an effect.
The blow out of Deepwater Horizon in the US in 2010 has contributed to an emphasis being placed the management of large spills from petroleum-related activities, also in Norway.
In Norway, we have up to now been spared from experiencing such large events. Our largest oil spill from a vessel in the past 10 years was from the Full City in 2009. Whereas the Exxon Valdez (in 1989) involved a spill of 33,000 tons of crude oil, the Full City only involved a spill of approx. 300 tons of heavy bunker oil, and consequent pollution along the coast from Stavern to Lillesand. Nor was the Bravo blow out in 1977 large in international terms.
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In 1978, the oil companies established the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) in order to co-operate on emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. This was a direct consequence of the experiences from the Bravo blow out. An oil recovery operations depot was established, more equipment procured and a technology development programme launched under the auspices of both the Norwegian state as well as the oil companies.
The technological level of equipment for oil recovery operations in 2017 contrasted with 1977 highlights the results of the focused efforts by the state and the oil companies.
This technological development has given rise to Norwegian export successes as well as laying the foundation for a world-leading industry in Norway involving equipment for emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations.
According to forecasts for maritime traffic along the Norwegian coast, an increase of 41% is anticipated during the period up to 2040. This can mean more frequent accidents and more oil spills. We expect to see new nautical routes be used in the Arctic and in combination with the introduction of new types of fuels we expect new challenges for our emergency preparedness oil recovery operations.
Offshore petroleum activities are establishing new areas for exploration activity further to the north, and with this activity being drawn in that direction the probability is also increasing that an oil spill might possibly reach the edge of the ice. These are areas that involve long distances and few resources.
What should we be doing in future? The most important emergency preparedness capacity will always comprise preventing accidents and spills from occurring.
On a national basis, the Norwegian Coastal Administration has seen a reduction in oil spills from ships. A number of maritime safety measures have contributed to this, such as the introduction of AIS, the establishment of maritime traffic centres and improved navigation aids. But accidents can still occur and our analyses show this. Hence both the Norwegian government and the oil companies spend large sums of money every year to maintain good emergency preparedness for any instances of acute contamination.
Education, training and exercises are central elements. Every year, we carry out a series of both large and small exercises focused on oil recovery operations. Based upon the Norwegian Coastal Administration’s own experiences and knowledge acquired from the accidents mentioned above, we have drawn up a national emergency preparedness plan for events involving acute contamination. This encompasses the management of spills from ships and describes how the Norwegian Coastal Administration, in conjunction with the operator responsible, will establish state-level action management in the event of large offshore spills.
Development of emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations is a continuous process.
The challenges associated with maritime activity gradually moving towards the north, new traffic patterns, new types of fuels, increased traffic, etc., are all things we must find solutions to through continuing the efforts in emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations. The development of technology and methodology that has taken place over the past 40 years has resulted in emergency preparedness that is currently far better and more robust than it was back then. Yet the activity has also increased, and will continue to increase in future if the forecasts are correct.
However, the total extent of the challenges cannot be fully countered by solely strengthening the plan for emergency preparedness for oil recovery operations. The existing preventive measures must be expanded and new measures established. Even though we can never eliminate all risks of oil spills, we must nevertheless always possess the best competence and the best equipment available to combat the effects. Continuing development to increase our effectiveness and capacity are central to achieving this.
Our ambition at the Norwegian Coastal Administration is for Norway to be a world leader in oil recovery operations!