Norwegians like to call the rags-to-riches tale of winning petroleum wealth from the terrifyingly hostile northern seas their "oil fairy tale". In keeping with the mood this evokes, there is an underlying discomfort that the story may not end happily ever after. The result is a feeling of vigilance, and a sense of responsibility attached to the national good fortune. This manifests itself in two ways: a constant eye on how to adapt to dwindling oil reserves, and deep concern about the natural environment that brought forth these riches.
Such attention and accountability stems not just from the national passion for the great unspoiled outdoors, but also from recognition of the fact that, first by hydropower, then by petroleum, nature has come to Norway's economic rescue at critical times in its history.
Norway's petroleum sector has long been in the forefront of strictly regulating its impact on the environment, and as far back as 1996-97, state authorities prepared the audacious "Zero Environmentally Hazardous Discharges" policy. The deadline set for nil tolerance: 2005.
Preparing for Adversity
While the industry, authorities and research and development began the task of constant improvement demanded by this idealistic goal of perfection, there were also immediate practical tasks to carry out.
Initiated in 1993, NOSCA (the Norwegian Oil Spill Control Association) is a non-profit cooperative of companies, R&D institutions and the Norwegian Coastal Administration - the governmental pollution control authority.
The latest "Westex" exercise in October 2005 in Stavanger was organized by NOSCA member NOFO (Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies), in cooperation with ExxonMobil. Westex provided the most recent chance to show international coastal authorities how the latest technological advances could help cope with the scenario of a tanker being hit by a larger bulk carrier and the resulting spill.
|© Frank Mohn Flatøy
The TransRec 150 oil recovery and transfer system can be steered by a portable radio remote control for added safety.
Working Safer & Longer
Bergen-based Frank Mohn (Flatøy) and subsidiary Framo Engineering recently unveiled the TransRec 150, an oil recovery and transfer system for use at sea with two remarkable novelties - the ability to be steered by a portable radio remote control for added safety, and improvements that make operation in poor visibility or at night feasible.
Global marketing specialist AllMaritim can boast the latest edition in the "Buster" line, developed by NOFI Tromsø. The oil containment Busters are more manoeuvrable than conventional oil boom systems, and they can chase other slicks until they are full, when the captured oil is then skimmed from its separator. The new Harbour Buster was launched in 2005, and is the smallest in the series, a response to demands for a version uniquely suited to shallow waters and harbours. Interestingly, the largest model, the Ocean Buster, arrived first. Buster-series products operate well under the major problems of fast currents or towing speeds, and have been exported to the United States, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands and Spain.
The long cooperation between NOFO and Asker-based sensor specialist Miros is now on the verge of becoming actively deployed along the Norwegian shelf. The Miros OSD (Oil Spill Detection System) provides software analysis and advanced image processing that can detect oil spills in complete darkness, opening the way for 24-hour skimmer operations. The system also provides information on the conditions of water currents in the area, giving hints about the spill's movements. The benefits of the technology are even more apparent when one remembers the growing relevance of the petroleum industry in the far north, and the months of winter darkness there.
Norway's petroleum industry has always been dependent on research. As the sector gears up to meet increasingly stringent requirements, both the industry and authorities want to make sure they are prepared for the worst.
Akvamiljø, established by the oil industry and owned and operated by research organizations including Rogaland Research (RF), Stavanger University College and the University of Bergen Research Foundation, concentrates on eco-toxicology. Its work focuses on quantifying the effect of pollution on living organisms, and as the oil industry approaches zero emission of acutely toxic substances, Akvamiljø in turn increases its focus on more subtle effects, such as on species reproduction.
|Norway's petroleum sector has long been in the forefront of strictly regulating its impact on the environment, and statistics like these help illustrate this fact.
Preparing for Zero
While the long-term effects are being researched, industry has had the pressing task of getting emissions and discharges down as low and as quickly as possible. The Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) has been able to make encouraging announcements for years, particularly regarding the reduction of the most hazardous - so-called black and red - chemicals.
From 2002-2004, black and red chemical discharge on the Norwegian continental shelf declined by 94 and 71 percent, respectively. The latest OLF annual report reported that a record low in oil content in produced water was set, and that industry levels were already well under stricter limits presumed in force in 2006. CO2 emissions produced per unit were about one-third of the international average.
Miros' OSD (Oil Spill Detection System) can detect oil spills in complete darkness, opening the way for 24-hour skimmer operations.
A key reason behind Norway's success is considerable expertise in handling produced water. Aker Kværner has long been associated with this process, and winning a 2005 Hydro contract to enable the Oseberg field to inject all produced water into the Utsira reservoir is another example.
Norway is a shining light when it comes to innovative purification techniques. CTour technology has its roots in a collaboration between Rogaland Research (RF) and most of the operating companies on the Norwegian continental shelf.
The CTour technology involves adding condensate - light oil - to produced water, which causes dissolved hydrocarbons to form droplets which can then be sent to hydrocyclones that separate the oil and clean water before delivering them to their respective destinations. The company CTour Process Systems boasts best available technology (BAT), and up to a 90% removal rate. Statoil installed the CTour Process on the Statfjord field in 2005 and ConocoPhillips will do the same at their 2/4-J platform at Ekofisk.
Best & Better?
A possible usurper of BAT status comes from the new Epcon treatment, a simple but remarkably effective idea that looks able to push the removal bar over 90%. Porsgrunn-based Epcon Offshore began with a technology development deal with Norsk Hydro in 1999 and earned its spurs in real-time testing. The first large-scale deployment of Epcon units at Troll C helped Hydro win an Offshore Technology Conference award.
Epcon's patented CFU (Compact Flotation Unit) is a little marvel. Based on soft cyclone and flotation technologies, the process is extremely fast. The CFU requires very little space, lacks moving parts, has no small openings that could block the system and needs no external energy. Oil drops and droplets are forced together and coalesce until they create a continuous layer, aided by internal devices and the effect caused by the release of residual gas from the water.
|An illustration of the Epcon CFU (Compact Flotation Unit) tank process. The Epcon treatment may be able to remove over 90% of the hydrocarbons, hydrophobic substances, aromatic compounds and small particles from produced water.
© Epcon Offshore
Epcon will deliver the purification plant for further improving produced water cleanliness at Statoil's Troll B platform in cooperation with Aker Kværner Offshore Partner and Aker Kværner Elektro.
Success was not long in coming in the UK, which has older wells and thus more produced water. Systems have been delivered to the UK and Brazil, and contracts awarded in Canada, Qatar and Oman. Not bad for a company that had four employees in 2002.
Prepared for Anything
Perhaps the biggest headline winner in terms of the industry's environmental future came from a startling source, and in an even more surprising way. Norway's leading environmental foundation Bellona succeeded where government agencies could not - in finding an innovative business model for creating a CO2 value chain.
The plan, "CO2 for IOR (Improved Oil Recovery) on the Norwegian Shelf - Environment and Value Creation Hand-in-Hand", recommends that the state create two companies. One would capture 17 million tonnes of CO2 a year. The other would handle CO2 distribution and sale. The state would bear the risks of the massive investment but also stands to reap most of the huge projected gains, both in profits and taxes. And, by becoming a trader in the new environmental commodity, the use of CO2 for IOR would suddenly gain in commercial feasibility.
Bellona estimates that, at current oil prices, the gross added value of such increased oil and gas productivity over a 40-year period would be a dizzying NOK 1,000 billion. In the bargain, they argue their plan would allow Norway to fulfil its obligations to the Kyoto protocol, reduce the costs and risks for Norway's process industries and generate major contracts for the engineering industry.
Immediate reactions to the plan unveiled in late August 2005 have been encouraging. The new Labour-led government's policy platform explicitly states that a state company would be given the responsibility to create a CO2 transport and injection value chain, along with the funding to help the process. Statoil CEO Helge Lund told an international audience in late October 2005 that the company was currently considering the creation of such a system, with IOR as a goal.
To Be Continued
But perhaps it should not come as such a big surprise that Norway's toughest environmental group has managed such a feat. Even though their recurring clashes over industry development and eco-concerns most often make headlines, Bellona has also had a long cooperation with Statoil. This is because both Statoil Senior VP for the environment Tor Fjæran and Bellona front man Fredric Hauge agree that the benefits of maintaining a close dialogue on vital issues from opposing viewpoints is invaluable. And when government, industry and watchdog organizations can cooperate so well, is it so hard to believe that this real-life fairy tale can continue?