Two seemingly unrelated media headlines on the same day are really reflecting the same challenge, first the oil price falling to below 38 $ per bbl, and the Ministry of Labour and social affairs not approving PSA’s proposal to require all existing free fall lifeboats on Norwegian production installations be upgraded to comply with new requirements. The oil industry has resisted such upgrading over several years, on the grounds that the benefit would be in gross disproportion to the costs1.
PSA (and the industry) is required to employ a risk based approach in order to determine risk reduction. It has to be considered that no evacuation fatalities in the Norwegian sector has occurred after the Alexander Kielland accident in March 1980 (except during maintenance). The last major accident with fatalities in the Norwegian sector occurred in October 1985, with 100% successful evacuation (by conventional lifeboats) in the middle of the night during a burning shallow gas blowout. The person who unfortunately lost his life was probably fatally injured in the initial explosion, as 11 fatalities occurred in the initial explosion on Deepwater Horizon in 2010. Also in that accident was evacuation otherwise successful.
Preventing occurrence of major accident precursors is much more important than improving evacuation facilities in a risk based approach. It is noteworthy that the frequency of major hazard precursor incidents has fallen from around one incident per installation per year around 2000, to about one incident every third year, these days (according to PSA’s RNNP). For HC leaks (>0.1 kg/s), the reduction is even stronger, from one leak every year to about one leak every seven years.
At the Marine technology Dept (NTNU) we are aiming to conduct research in the future, in order to try to solve this dilemma, how to achieve risk reduction in a low oil price regime.
Back to the lifeboats, it does not make sense to require major upgrading of evacuation means with such marked reduction of precursor frequency, at least not in an environment where an oil price climbing back to about 80 $ per bbl in a few years seems less and less likely.