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Norway; United States: Comparative Study of Drilling Regulations Issued

(Sept. 15, 2010) On August 26, 2010, DNV (Det Norske Veritas), self-described as “an independent foundation with the purpose of safeguarding life, property, and the environment” that provides risk-management services, issued a report summarizing the differences in the offshore drilling regulations of Norway and the United States. (About Us, DNV website, (last visited Sept. 10, 2010); DNV, OLF/NOFO – Summary of Differences Between Offshore Drilling Regulations in Norway and U.S. Gulf of Mexico, DNV Reg. No. 2010-1220/12P3WF5-9 (Rev 02, Aug. 26, 2010), The report was prepared by a multidisciplinary team, whose members are knowledgeable about both Norwegian and U.S. regulations. The approach taken is one of a “mainly … factual and technical comparison,” without considering such issues as actual compliance with or suitability of the regulations or the causes of the BP Deepwater Horizon accident (id.).

Chapters of the report include those on regulations and regulatory regimes, management requirements, drilling and well activities requirements, facility and drilling system requirements, and oil spill preparedness requirements. Some of the more specific subjects covered are: risk analysis and risk management and acceptance criteria; competence and training of well control/design personnel; well design and well barrier requirements; emergency shutdown systems for rigs; blow-out-preventers (BOPs), choke and kill systems, and diverter systems; and the organization of oil spill preparedness and preparedness planning and response.

Two key findings of the report are:

1) A major difference between the two countries' regulatory regimes is that “the Norwegian regulations are primarily performance and risk based, whereas the U.S. regulations are dominantly prescriptive and do not require the application of systematic risk management practices.” (Id.)

As a result, under the Norwegian regulations, the regulators' role is to define the safety standards and acceptance criteria to be met by the industry; the intent of the regime is to have the operator be “'self-regulatory' when it comes to Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) performance, rather than relying on the regulator's efforts in controlling that the HSE requirements are met.” Thus, the operators have a relatively greater responsibility in the Norwegian system to demonstrate the compliance of their safety management system and of their performance with the regulations. (Id.

The U.S. regulations, according to the report, specify technical requirements (e.g., for structures and equipment) rather than focusing on the operators' performance, with the regulatory authorities defining HSE requirements and monitoring companies' compliance. “There is no specific requirement to establish a safety management system, and performance criteria and acceptance criteria are applied in only a limited extent in the U.S. offshore drilling regime compared to the Norwegian regime.” (Id.)

2) In terms of regulations on well design, drilling, and well operation, the main difference is Norway's requirement of “a systematic application of two independent and tested well barriers in all operations.” The United States has no similar systematic well barrier requirements, according to the report. Moreover, unlike Norway, the United States does not require an additional casing shear ram in the BOP for dynamic positioned mobile offshore drilling units, nor does it require well-control equipment recertification every fifth year. (Id.)

The “Conclusive Summary” provides a number of additional, specific points of comparison for each major chapter topic.