The geological and geographic conditions for offshore activities, naturally increase the risk factor when it comes to safety and health of the employees working on offshore workplaces such as oil rigs. However, reports on offshore disasters in the recent years have shown that most of the times; accidents occur due to human errors. According to research done by oil and gas industry specific website fuelfix by Chron; four of five major offshore accidents occur due to human faults. The rest mostly happen because of structural or mechanical failures.
Recent accidents such as Azerbaijan’s SOCAR pipeline damage (2015), Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010), Montara oil spill (2009), Usumacinta Jack-up disaster (2007), Mumbai High North disaster (2005) and many more; have called for new and stronger safety regulations to allow companies and the industry overall to outline the different situations that can arise during drilling or other offshore operations. Other than the unfortunate loss of life, offshore accidents have a lasting impact on the environment. Such accidents can cause significant economic damage as well.
Risk Assessment & Recent Safety Regulations
Before the commencement of any offshore activities or before the exploration and production begins; companies must conduct a risk assessment and develop a response plan in case of emergency. Potential environmental, meteorological and seabed related hazards must be included in the report. Safety on an offshore operation does entail a thorough risk assessment. However, this does not mean that the process of ensuring continued safety ends here. As mentioned above, main safety concerns lie with people, i.e. employees on-site doing the right thing at the right time.
The updated draft of safety regulations by the European Union covers the entire process of oil exploration and production activities. Under these regulations, the industry will need to assess and continually improve safety measures for offshore operations on a regular basis. A few key responsibilities for effective prevention are listed below:
Liability for Damage from Offshore Accidents
Firms will be held appropriately responsible for any harm that may arise during business. Liability for damage from offshore accidents are recognised under three categories by the EU.
- Civil Liability: this damage is also referred to as third party damage and includes property damage, economic loss and bodily injuries.
- Environmental Liability: this includes damage to natural habitats, protected species and damage to water and soil. It is the public authority’s responsibility to ensure that the liable operator is identified, a corrective plan is established and necessary action is taken.
- Criminal Liability: aimed at imposing penalties and punishment in case of wrongful conduct by committing a crime as per the law.
The main legislation for offshore licensing in Ireland is the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960. The Act provides for three types of licenses; an exploration license, a reserved area licence and a prospecting license for a minimum of three years. The fourth licensing round held in 2011 covered the whole of Ireland’s Atlantic seabed, except for previously licensed areas.
Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, the EU put in place a common regulatory framework for the oil & gas industry to raise the safety & environmental protection standards for all EU offshore operations. This framework is called the Offshore Safety Directive (OSD) and concentrates on establishing minimum requirements for preventing major offshore accidents. The offshore inspectors of EU member countries work with each other to create the European Union Offshore Oil and Gas Authorities Group. EUOAG is a forum established in 2012 to exchange information and knowledge related to oil and gas activities such as supporting the European Commission in monitoring the application of relevant Union legislation, preparing standards & industry best practices and encouraging and enabling accord between the Commission and national authorities regarding regulatory best practices.