Bellona: ‘Regulate the rig regulators’

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Norwegian environmental organization Bellona was calling on Thursday for Norwegian regulatory agencies to do a better job of regulating offshore oil and gas installations, following Wednesday’s evacuation of an accommodation platform off Kristiansund that threatened to tip over.

The  platform that housed offshore workers on the Njord field, the Floatel Superior, was found to contain several deficiencies before it was approved for service on the Norwegian continental shelf last year. The platform  was new and had been towed from its construction yard in Singapore in 2010 when Norwegian maritime authorities (Sjøfartsdirektoratet) uncovered a long list of deficiencies in October 2010, reported magazine Teknisk Ukeblad.

Problems ‘overlooked’
Norway’s petroleum industry regulators (Petroleumtilsynet) already had been asked to approve the rig for operations and did so in December 2010. That prompted Bellona boss Frederic Hauge to claim on national radio Thursday that the regulators didn’t take the platform’s condition seriously enough and had “overlooked” the maritime authorities’ warnings. “It shows that the regulators lack necessary evaluation abilities,” Hauge told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

He claimed Petroleumtilsynet also had approved use of the oil rig Scarabeo 8, which started listing to one side in the Barents Sea in early September. He claims that rig also had been found earlier to have problems tied to its ballast tanks and stability.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that the Floatel Superior was held for repairs and improvements, however, before Statoil put it into service from May 1 last year. The maritime authorites reportedly had found 44 deficiencies when they surveyed it in October 2010.

Regulators will investigate
Officials at Petroleumtilsynet, who were alerted immediately when the platform began to tilt to one side early Wednesday morning, now say they will investigate factors leading to its approval in December 2010 and to Wednesday’s destabilization, while the union representing offshore workers expressed additional safety concerns. Among them was a decision by the platform’s officers to allow the hundreds of workers on board to keep sleeping after a loose anchor crashed into two of the platform’s ballast tanks, puncturing them and filling them with water. That destabilized the platform, resulting in a tilt of 3-4 degrees.

“When stabilization problems occur the alarm should have rung immediately,” Roy Furre of the workers’ union SAFE, told Aftenposten. He thinks Statoil waited too long to evacuate the more than 300 persons on board.

No injuries
No one was injured during the incident or the evacuation, which took place in stormy weather and 10-meter-high waves. A total of 336 workers were ultimately taken off the platform, mostly by helicopter. Another 48 persons remained on board to maintain re-stabilization efforts until the platform is towed to land for new repairs. The accident will have large economic consequences, not least because of the need to take the platform out of service.

A spokesman for the platform’s owner, Floatel International of Sweden, said Wednesday’s incident was not related to the deficiencies uncovered by the maritime authorities in 2010. He stressed that the platform was designed and built in accordance to standards by classification society Det Norske Veritas to withstand harsh conditions off the coast of Norway.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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