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News Article

Role of the International Regulations Forum

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 09:00

Offshore oil and gas projects often transcend national boundaries, either because of the equipment and personnel being shipped from location to location or because of integrated operations extending over national boundaries. In order to improve the health and safety standards in the offshore industry, the offshore regulators decided in 1994 to create a forum where national offshore regulators could meet and share information in order to improve international safety performance of the offshore oil and gas industry.

The objectives of the International Regulators Forum (IRF) are to promote the philosophy that safety is inseparable from good economic project performance, and to promote an exchange of information between national regulators on offshore health and safety trends, industry health and safety performance, lessons from incidents, industry best practice, regulatory best practice, and the effectiveness of different regulatory activities. The forum hopes also to be a place where national regulators can go for advice when required. The IRF tries to achieve these objectives through an annual plenary meeting, and communication between members as the need arises. Topics discussed at the annual meeting include country updates, covering health and safety issues of common interest, and technical sessions that address matters such as lessons learnt from previous incidents, research findings and regulatory initiatives. During the meetings the regulators also arrange the work schedule for the following year, decide on shared projects and how the workload is to be divided.

The IRF also started a database on the safety performance of member countries in offshore activities in order to draw comparisons. In order to do this, the international forum decided upon common guidelines for data collection. The factors taken into account include the number of fatalities and major injuries, as well as collisions, fires and the loss of control of wells. To put the figures into context, factors such as the number of offshore installations and well- related activity, as well as the total hours worked are also taken into account. In the case of Mexico, there were two major collisions and five major fires reported in 2010 for a total of 696 offshore installations. In comparison, the US reports seven major collisions and one major fire, but for 3,528 offshore installations. Some IRF participants did not present all the information because data was not available or had not been collected in years past.

The IRF also looks on the brighter side of the offshore oil and gas industry by distributing awards that reward contributions to safety within this industry sector. The award is called the IRF Carolita Kallaur award and contractors or operators are eligible, as well as specific people or institutions.

The countries that currently participate in the International Regulators Forum are Australia, Norway, the USA, Denmark, Mexico through the National Hydrocarbons Commission (CNH), New Zealand, Canada, Brazil, the UK and the Netherlands. The CNH sees this membership as an opportunity to bring international safety standards to Mexico, and learn from other countries on the best way to regulate the offshore industry. The Mexican regulator became the 11th organization and the 10th country to become an IRF member in November 2010. The forum’s first extraordinary meeting was held in the wake of the Macondo well blowout, to address issues related to the loss of well control not only at Macondo, but also at Montara, located off the Australian coast. During the meeting, each member of the forum participated in a discussion over case studies about their response to recent incidents, including regulatory processes in place and best practices. Additionally, key associations and organizations briefed the committee on initiatives to improve offshore safety.

The outcomes from the extraordinary meeting were that the IRF should provide leadership on safety-related regulatory matters for offshore oil and gas activities, agreeing to draft a strategic agenda, which has now been approved. The forum also agreed to continue strengthening the bonds between members to increase the amount of information shared. For issues directly relating to Macondo and Montara, the forum decided to develop an audit protocol looking at blowout preventer integrity and operational issues for use by all IRF members. In 2011, the IRF followed up with a second extraordinary meeting in Stavanger, Norway to discuss the implications of recent events on the offshore oil and gas industry. Over 200 industry professionals attended the meeting.