Opinion: First-time Operator Rigors

By William Stoichevski
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Whatever the state of gas markets, new Norway operators keen on the commodity as cheap energy for millions of their citizens or as lynchpin of a new chemicals industry are pressing ahead taking organizational hiccups in-stride.

That’s the case of Polish gas player, PGNiG, which joined the ranks of other first-time operators offshore Norway this summer to plow forth on its first-ever operated well, 6507/5-9 S, in the Norwegian Sea, a notoriously high-pressure, high-temperature play. Oil company Okea was another “new” operator to win drilling approval after an inspection this week by Norwegian safety regulators nearly derailed schedules.

Both operators have much at stake: PGNiG has pledged to be the instrument that weans Poland off of cheap, plentiful Russian gas, and a planned pipeline through Danish waters will need throughput from Norway. Gas supplies and Norway-based contracts have taken on a sense of urgency for the Poles and their suppliers, now that the contractors building the Baltic Sea Nord Stream 2 pipeline — including Kvaerner — are reportedly under threat of U.S. sanctions.

Like PGNiG’s, Okea’s first operated wells in Norway, 6407/9-11 and 6407/9-12 are being drilled in the Norwegian Sea after regulators examined their applications to drill. As with PGNiG, safety inspectors found issues.

In Okea’s case, inspectors said the company wasn’t following closely enough its own, internal rules on drilling operations and well control. They suggested divergences from normal operations weren’t being monitored closely enough.

The new operator was given until mid-Octover to show it was in control. In common with UK “asset-players” of last decade, Okea has a vastly experienced staff it can count on, even as it tackles a wholescale pipeline renovation at the Draugen field and deploys new technology at the Yme 2 field, where a rig is being turned into the new Yme production platform.

Disaster had struck Yme’s earlier Canadian owners. Bold new operator, Okea, aims to turn it into a an oil production hub along with operator Repsol Norge.

Officials were also keen to scrutinize PGNiG’s overall steadfastness as an operator, but like other first-time Norway operators of recent memory — say Wintershall Dea or Wellesley Petroleum — the HSE de rigeur would be more about, “Can they do health, safety and the environment” right in planning their first ever well. Inspectors decided PGNiG was “well equipped” to drill by-the-book and only needed to improve its internal controls and follow-ups of deviances and drilling.

Safety hires
But, contracting out all you need doesn’t always work as planned the first time for a first-time operator in Norway, where a separate set of rules apply. The Norwegian offshore business of Hungarian MOL Norge (the former Ithaca Norge) was found by safety regulators to have hired a spill preparedness organization that was said to fall short of a second-line of defense.

The company had hired a second-line safety outfit which Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) inspectors found “not very proactive” during a safety exercise. “It wasn’t very clear how the second line (of disaster prevention) secured an overview of the situation and how they provided a strategy for the best possible use of resources,” a letter to MOL from the PSA said, adding, “It’s imperative that they understand the situation and have the knowledge and competence concerning (ongoing oilfield operations).”

Communications, accident management and gauging hazards were all found to be wanting in the PSA appraisal of this first-time operator’s safety contractor. “MOL (as operator) has not ensured that personnel in its second-line preparedness organization have the knowhow necessary to ensure that the necessary measures are set in motion during hazardous or accidental.”  

MOL’s response was to prepare a new exercise. What happened to its safety supplier isn’t clear, but the lesson for new operators on a schedule was, “Get involved in the intricacies of your key suppliers deployments in your name.”

Supplier involvement
After all, established Norway operators and their seasoned suppliers regularly get pulled over by safety inspectors for a wide range of “infractions”. Wintershall Dea and Odfjell Drilling were recently told to sharpen their drill-floor training; Equinor to check its electronic monitoring … and so on.

Then there’s Cairn’s Norway business, Capricorn, which — despite only having two of its own HSE experts available to drill its first-ever wells in the Norwegian near arctic — is relying on liaison with partner Lundin. They were told to improve their readiness to document unplanned well events of long duration.

To that end they’ve got their own Well Delivery Process but no well management company. They’ve got a seconded Cairn drilling expert ready and Ross Offshore drilling consultants. They have the same “second-line” preparedness unit accused by the PSA of not looking robust enough during an Okea safety exercise.

Still, Cairn was declared fit to drill its two Barents Sea wells, Lynghaug and, it seems, Godalen.

“The company looks well prepared for the completion of its first exploration operation on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.”

So, first-time indies reliant on suppliers for safety and well services, be prepared for an HSE shakedown off Norway.

Categories: Drilling Activity Europe

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