The requirements for the petroleum activity in the Barents Sea are considerably stricter than the standards that apply on other parts of the Norwegian continental shelf. The targets aim specifically at the reduction of discharges of hazardous compounds both in chemical products used and naturally occurring in the produced water.
Licences to engage in petroleum activities in an area can only be obtained for areas that are open for petroleum activities. The decision to open an area for petroleum activities is made by the Parliament (Stortinget). For the areas that are open for petroleum activities, the authorities issue exploration and production licences on a case by case basis.
Before seismic surveys are carried out, notification must be sent to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), the Directorate of Fisheries, the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR), and the Ministry of Defence. The NPD will issue a licence to conduct seismic surveys.
Environmental impact assessments (EIA ) must be carried out before an area is opened for petroleum activities. The assessment is initiated and funded by the authorities. The results from the studies lead to the decision on which parts of the areas to open, and the conditions that apply in the opened areas. The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy (MPE) is the responsible authority, and the opening of the areas is done by the Parliament.
For the production phase, the operator must submit a plan for development and operations (PDO). The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy issue exploration and production licences for relatively limited areas. The licences may contain specific conditions such as a ban on exploration drilling during biologically vulnerable periods.
Before any activities could start (exploration or production drilling and before a production installation is taken into use) the operators must obtain a consent from the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA). In addition, the operators must obtain an environmental licence from the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT) according to the Pollution Control Act and the HSE (health, safety and environment) regulations. These licences contain specific requirements regarding discharges into the sea, emissions to air, handling of waste, and emergency preparedness.
The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy has an overall responsibility for the petroleum sector, including environmental issues. The Petroleum Safety Authority coordinates the authorities involved on a regular basis. The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority is responsible for environmental issues on a day to day basis.
The applications, EIAs, consents and licences are open to the public, except the documents regarding production licences, which will include confidential information regarding production profile, expected income to the government etc.
Before the production is shut down on a field, the operator must submit a decommissioning plan to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. The decommissioning activity will need licences and consents in line with what is described above for other petroleum activities.
The Government also requires operators to carry out environmental monitoring programmes on all oil fields to monitor the impact on the surrounding environment. Guidelines for environmental monitoring are issued by the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority.
Special regulations for the Barents Sea
The requirements for the petroleum activity in the Baren Sea are described in a white paper on oil and gas activities (Report to the Storting on the Oil and Gas Activities (Report no. 38 to the Storting (2001-2002)) and the most important ones are listed below:
• Injection in to the underground or another suitable technology must be used to prevent discharges of produced water.
• A maximum of 5 % of the produced water may be discharged during operational deviations provided that it is treated before discharge.
• Drill cuttings and drilling fluids must be injected into the underground or taken to shore for treatment.
• Drill cuttings and drilling fluids from the top-hole section may be discharged provided that they do not contain substances with unacceptable ecotoxicological properties, , and only if EIAs indicate that damage to vulnerable components of the environment is unlikely. Such assessments must be based on thorough surveys of vulnerable components of the environment (spawning grounds, coral reefs, other vulnerable benthic animals).
• Petroleum activities in the area must not result in damage to vulnerable flora and fauna. Areas that might be affected must be surveyed before any activities are started.
• There must be no discharges into the sea in connection with well testing.
• Oil spill response measures must be at least as effective as on other parts of the continental shelf.
• The total amounts of use and discharges/injection of produced water, drill cuttings; chemicals etc. are reported, by the different operators, in yearly reports to the Norwegian Pollution Control Authorities.