Norway to accept oil rig marine disposal ban

Government paves the way for unanimous approval on ban, maintains demand for exceptions

Norway is prepared to accept a general ban on disposal at sea of disused oil and gas installations, the government said today. Norway has been the only member of Ospar (the Oslo and Paris Conventions) resisting prohibition, following an apparent policy shift by the UK government last September (ENDS Daily 2 September 1997). Its change of heart opens the way for environment ministers to agree a ban unanimously when they meet in Lisbon in July.

Erik Johnsen of the Norwegian energy ministry told ENDS Daily: "Previously, our policy was to look at each rig on a case-by-case basis, but with a total ban on dumping at sea in certain categories. Now this policy has been turned around: we will accept a ban in principle, provided there is a general exemption clause to take account of the unexpected, or of extreme circumstances."

In a statement released on Friday, Oil and Energy Minister Marit Arnstad did not elaborate on what she described as "necessary exceptions connected to such a ban". "Every country is aware that some types of platforms have to be discussed," she said. "By setting a framework where you accept, in general, that there is a ban but that there is also a willingness to discuss exceptions, that will be the right setting to move further."

Clarifying the statement, Mr Johnsen said today: "Just because an exemption clause exists does not mean we will use it." Factors to consider in deciding whether to invoke such a clause might include "environmental safety" and excessive costs, particularly in the case of concrete platforms, "which might require more energy use in land disposal than was saved", and very large steel platforms, which might pose technical and safety issues.

One classic example of an "extreme" or "unexpected" case which should not automatically be subject to a total ban on disposal at sea was the Piper Alpha rig in the aftermath of the 1988 disaster, Mr Johnsen said. He pointed out that the only two Norwegian platforms to be dismantled to date had been disposed of on land.

The government says it is confident that Norway's change of policy, will win approval from Ospar ministers in July. However, a proposal made last month by the European Commission for a blanket ban on sea-dumping of disused offshore oil and gas platforms could increase pressure on the UK and Norway (which is not an EU member) to drop their insistence on exceptions (ENDS Daily 18 February).

Follow Up:
Norwegian energy ministry, +47 22 24 61 00.

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