New safety framework for oil, gas extraction


LESSONS FROM BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year will be applied to a new safety framework for oil and gas extraction and production, according to senior management with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).

The framework, which will be independent of the Department of Energy’s petroleum affairs division, will be developed over the next two years, according to details published by the CER yesterday evening.

The framework will be implemented and monitored in an “open and transparent manner, underpinned by a fully consultative approach”, it has said.

The CER report notes that there are currently 36 active petroleum (oil and gas) authorisations by the State, with the majority involving exploration offshore.

The report, entitled Status Analysis Review of the Existing Legislative and Regulatory System for Petroleum Exploration and Extraction in Ireland, also notes that there is significant overlap, and some potential gaps, in the current monitoring and response regime.

Eleven different departments and agencies hold certain functions, and the Health and Safety Authority is responsible for workplace safety only.

The CER’s new remit embraces public safety, and will apply to the Kinsale field, the Corrib gas project and other upstream oil/gas activities and associated infrastructure, including the Shannon liquefied natural gas project.

Until now the CER’s safety functions were confined to downstream safety, mainly monitoring of gas installations and electrical contractors.

No gas will flow from the Corrib field until the CER approves the developers’ “safety case”, it says.

The transfer of functions was promised four years ago, but enabling legislation was first published last year by former minister for energy Eamon Ryan and has not yet been fully implemented.

“International best practice, including lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon, will be a key metric,” Garrett Blaney, CER commissioner with responsibility for safety, told The Irish Times.

The full provisions of the underpinning legislation, the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Act 2010, would not be entirely “commenced” until the framework is complete, he said.

The CER has drawn advice from the North Sea Offshore Authorities Forum and from a European Commission taskforce initiated after the Gulf of Mexico spill.

New staff will be hired as the plan is developed, to cover each stage of the “life cycle” of petroleum infrastructure, from design, construction and operation to maintenance, modification and decommissioning.

The CER says that the framework will identify overlaps between existing statutory agencies involved in some aspect of petroleum exploration and extraction safety.

The include the Health and Safety Authority, the Department of Energy’s petroleum affairs division, the Marine Survey Office, the Irish Coast Guard, the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Irish Aviation Authority, the Air Accident Investigation Unit, the Garda, the Environmental Protection Agency and An Bord Pleanála.

Safety cases approved for particular developments would be backed up by regular inspections, Mr Blaney said, and the regulator expected the relevant developers to take “as much responsibility as possible”, with adequate supports.