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UK safety regulators provide 'creative tension'

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Steve Walker, head of the Offshore Division of the UK's Heath and Safety Executive, said that he sees his role as a regulator to provide 'creative tension' to the oil and gas industry, to encourage improved environmental performance.

He was speaking at a breakfast briefing at the 2011 Offshore Europe event in Aberdeen (Sept 7 2011).

At the beginning of 2011, HSE agreed a target with the UK oil and gas industry to reduce hydrocarbon releases by 50 per cent over the next 3 years. 'The 50 per cent target matches public and political expectations,' he says.

Oil companies want clear answers in what exactly they need to do to meet requirements, but the HSE is not going to provide them, he said. 'I would love to be able to say, here's what you need to do. But everyone needs a bespoke solution. It will vary on every platform.'

'Releases don't happen all that often on a particular platform,' he said. 'It's a matter of making sure the workforce are fully competent and understand the role they can play. If you've got an informed workforce, they know what the risks are.'

Mr Walker acknowledged that if there is a safety failure (ie hydrocarbon releases), that is a failure of the regulatory system as well as industry.

Mr Walker was asked, why does the UK Health and Safety Executive keep information about hydrocarbon releases secret? The Guardian Newspaper had to used the UK Freedom of Information Act to extract information from HSE about hydrocarbon releases.

'There's increasing expectation from the media for information,' Mr Walker replied. 'At the moment we provide information in an anonymised way. We have shied away from naming and shaming. The important thing for me is to make sure the information gets to the people who work with it (industry) not journalists.'

'But there is a continual drive on us to be more transparent. There is a drive to making this information more available. I think it is something which is gradually emerging.'

Mr Walker was asked if the industry has sufficient resources committed to asset integrity. 'I think the answer is no. There is a real challenge to get the right people in the right places in the North Sea basin,' he said.

Associated Companies
» Health and Safety Executive (UK)
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