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Environmental Stds for Offshore Drilling

Environmental Stds for Offshore Drilling

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Published by Timothy Yeo

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Published by: Timothy Yeo on Aug 23, 2012
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Alan Spackman is Director of Offshore Technical and RegulatoryAffairs for the InternationalAssociationof Drilling Contractors(IADC). His duties involve participationin industry standards organisationsand responding to numerousregulatoryproposals at both theinternational and national level.He is IADC’s principal representativeto the International MaritimeOrganization,a specialised agencyof the United Nations dealing withmaritime safety and environmentalprotection. Mr Spackman joined theassociation in 1991 after retiringfrom the US Coast Guard, wherehe held the rank of Commander.He received a Masters in NavalArchitecture and Marine Engineeringfrom the University of Michigan anda Bachelor of Science from theUnited States Coast Guard Academy.
a report by
Alan Spackman
Director, Offshore Technical and Regulatory Affairs, International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC)
The need for measures to address pollution fromoffshore oil and gas activities has been considered bythe General Assembly of the United Nations and, for several years, has been discussed actively within boththe Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD)and the International Maritime Organization. TheUnited Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea(UNCLOS) creates both an obligation and providesa structure for such measures, which are beingpursued by several United Nations organisations.The United Nations CSD has considered the matter and has concluded that “there is no compelling needat this time to further develop globally applicableenvironmental regulations in respect of theexploitation and exploration aspects of offshore oiland gas activities.” Nonetheless, views are divided.Those in favour of international regulations or guidelines have argued that there are many oil-producing regions that do not have the capacity todevelop either national or regional standards and thatsome kind of international regulations or guidelineswould help them. Those who have argued againstglobal measures contend that offshore oil and gasactivities only pose a threat of local pollution, whichcan be dealt with through national regulations or regional agreements. The industry itself hasdeveloped only a modest number of high-levelstandards. The implementation of meaningfulenvironmental management systems by the oilcompanies, coupled with changes to well design andoverall operational procedures, may offer a means of reducing adverse environmental impacts whilstavoiding prescriptive regulations.
The United Nations and a Structurefor Environmental Regulation of Offshore Activities
The United Nations Open-ended InformalConsultative Process was established by the GeneralAssembly
to facilitate the annual review by theassembly of developments in ocean affairs. It held itsthird meeting on 8–15 April 2002. The report of thismeeting
makes the following recommendationswith respect to offshore oil and gas activities.
The General Assembly should recommend thatregional seas conventions and action plans inregions where offshore oil and gas industries aredeveloping or are in prospect, and whereinstallations do not exist, should developprogrammes and/or measures to prevent, reduceand control pollution from offshore installations.
The General Assembly should invite regional seasconventions and action plans that have developedsuch programmes and measures to make their information and experience available for thisprocess.
The General Assembly should invite InternationalMaritime Organization (IMO), United NationsEnvironmental Programme (UNEP) and WorldMeteorological Organization (WMO) toundertake an initiative, involving the relevantregional organisations as well as the oil and gasindustry, to develop guidance on the bestenvironmental practices to prevent and controlpollution from accidents on offshore installationsand to mitigate their effects.The UNCLOS, which entered into force on 16November 1994, is a widely accepted treaty, havingbeen accepted by 138 nations (states party) as of 1October 2002. The convention provides an overallframework for environmental governance of offshoreand, to some extent, onshore oil and gas explorationand production operations. The implementation andenforcement principles of UNCLOS can besummarised as follows.
States party must adopt laws and regulations on
Environmental Standards for Offshore Drilling
1.Report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization, A/54/33 (1999).2.Report on the work of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process established by the General Assemblyin its resolution 54/33 in order to facilitate the annual review by the assembly of developments in ocean affairs at its third meeting, A/57/80 (2 July 2002).
Environmental Standards for Offshore Drilling
pollution from land-based sources and throughthe atmosphere, taking into account internationalprovisions, and enforce these laws and regulations(Articles 207(1), 212(1), 213 and 222).
With respect to seabed activities subject tonational jurisdiction, states party must adopt andenforce national laws and regulations to prevent,reduce and control pollution of the marineenvironment arising from, or in connection with,seabed activities subject to their jurisdiction andfrom artificial islands, installations and structures,which must be no less effective than internationalrules, standards and recommended practices andprocedures. States are also required to endeavour to harmonise their policies at the appropriateregional level (Articles 208 and 214).
States shall adopt laws and regulations and takeother measures on pollution from seabed activitiesand from dumping, which shall be no lesseffective than international (in the case of dumping, global) rules and standards (Articles 139,208, 209, 210 and 214).
Coastal states are required to adopt and enforcenational laws and regulations to prevent, reduceand control pollution of the marine environmentfrom artificial islands, installations and structuresunder their jurisdiction. Furthermore, states mustadopt measures to minimise, to the fullest possibleextent, pollution from installations and devicesused in the exploration or exploitation of thenatural resources of the seabed and subsoil(Articles 194, 208 and 210).
States should co-operate in establishingcontingency plans against pollution (Article 199).
States shall enforce this legislation within their  jurisdiction (including vessels flying their flag andaircraft of their registry) and ensure that their nationals, and bodies controlled by such nationals,comply with the requirements applicable in theareas of the seabed that are beyond national jurisdiction, known as ‘the area’ (Articles 139,208, 209, 210 and 214).
States must adopt laws and regulations onpollution from vessels that are entitled to fly their flag (flag states) that are at least as effective asgenerally accepted international rules andstandards (Articles 139, 208, 209, 210 and 214).Industry trade organisations have also developed aframework of standards, recommended practices andother guidelines for environmental protection. Theprincipal such organisations for the oil and gasindustries are the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Associationof Oil and Gas Producers (OGP), the InternationalAssociation of Drilling Contractors (IADC) and theAmerican Petroleum Institute (API). Theseorganisations represent their membership beforegovernment and governmental organisations.
TheSociety of Petroleum Engineers sponsors a semi-annual environmental conference and a number of regional conferences with environmental ‘bestpractice’ as their focus.It is noteworthy that Articles 208, 209 and 211 of UNCLOS do not differentiate between internationalstandards, recommended practices and proceduresdeveloped by intergovernmental bodies such as theIMO and those developed by the industryorganisations producing internationally recognisedstandards such as the ISO, OGP, IADC and API.
Land-based Sources
A structure and action plan for addressing land-based sources of pollution was developed by the1995 Washington Global Program of Action for theProtection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. This structure was reviewed at asubsequent meeting held in November 2001 inMontreal and is addressed in the Plan of Implementation (Paragraph 32) developed at theWorld Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.The structure is reinforced by a variety of regionalagreements. In the face of many other environmental issues of greater priority, littleattention has been directed at the international leveltowards land-based oil and gas exploration andproduction operations. Industry-specific guidelineshave been published by API.
Offshore Activities in Areas Subject toNational Jurisdiction
Under UNCLOS, exploitation of seabed mineralresources is subject to the exclusive control of theadjacent coastal state out to the limit of its exclusiveeconomic zone or the limit of its continental shelf if the continental shelf extends beyond 200 miles. In1996, the United Nations CSD concluded that“there is no compelling need at this time to further develop globally applicable environmentalregulations in respect of the exploitation and
3.The International Maritime Organization recognises both OGP and IADC as non-governmental organisations withconsultative status. IADC is similarly recognised by the International Seabed Authority.4.API RP 52, “Land Drilling Practices for Protection of the Environment”.
exploration aspects of offshore oil and gas activities.”
Further, it was concluded that “the primary focus of action on the environmental aspects of offshore oiland gas operations continues to be at the national,sub-regional and regional levels,” and noted that, insupport of such action, there was a need to “shareinformation on the development and application of satisfactory environmental management systems.”
Thirteen ‘regional seas’ programmes
have beenestablished under the auspices of UNEP, involvingmore than 140 nations. Two other regionalprogrammes are based on free-standingconventions: The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic(OSPAR Convention) and the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of theBaltic Sea (Helsinki Convention). In addition, ahigh-level intergovernmental forum, the ArcticCouncil, has been established to address the mutualconcerns faced by the Arctic governments andindigenous populations.While no global measures have been adoptedregulating the discharges directly arising from theexploration, exploitation and associated offshoreprocessing of oil and gas, harmonised regulationswith respect to the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas have been developed as part of theBaltic, Mediterranean, north-east Atlantic andKuwait regional programmes and under the ArcticCouncil. The matter has been considered by other regional programmes; however, in general, theyhave decided that other issues should be givenhigher priority.OGP has issued industry-specific guidelines for operations in tropical rainforests, onshore areas inarctic and sub-arctic areas, arctic offshore regions,mangrove areas and ‘sensitive’ environments.
The regional programmes also offer a means for intergovernmental exchanges on regulatory practiceand experiences, including exchange of informationon best environmental practice. The UNEPmaintains a website
to facilitate the exchange of suchinformation as it relates to offshore oil and gasexploration and production.
 Activities in the Area
Under Article 209 of UNCLOS, the development of seabed mineral resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction (i.e. ‘the area’) is subject to control by theInternational Seabed Authority (ISBA). The ISBA hasdirected its efforts towards developing regulations for prospecting and exploration for polymetallic nodules,since this is the limit of current commercial interest.However, the ISBA has noted the potential for hydrocarbon and gas hydrates in areas where there is apotential claim for a continental shelf extendingbeyond 200 nautical miles, including the Atlanticseaboard of North and South America (including theLabrador Sea) and the Alaskan Arctic seaboard.
Theauthority acknowledges that development potentialfor these resources is currently marginal, but notes thattechnological improvements in recovery efficiencyand greater access to deepwater areas are increasing therange of economically recoverable resources.
 At-sea Disposal (Dumping)
The dumping of wastes at sea is governed by the 1972London Convention on the Prevention of MarinePollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter.Seventy-eight nations have ratified or acceded to theLondon Convention. This agreement has been revisedand amended by its 1996 protocol (16 nations haveratified or acceded to the 1996 protocol). The protocolhas not yet entered into force; however, it has beenreported that it may enter into force as early as 2003.
The protocol introduces a wider definition of dumping than that contained in UNCLOS. Itincludes within the definition the expressions, “anystorage of wastes or other matter in the seabed andthe subsoil thereof from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea” and “anyabandonment or toppling at site of platforms or other man-made structures at sea, for the sole purpose of deliberate disposal.”The London Convention and protocol exempt thedisposal into the sea of “wastes or other matter incidental to, or derived from the normaloperations of vessels, aircraft, platforms or other man-made structures at sea; the placement of matter 
5.United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, CSD Decision 4/15, paragraph 26.6.CSD Decision 7/1, paragraph 3(a).7.Black Sea, Caribbean, East Asian Seas, East African, Kuwait, Mediterranean, North-West Pacific, Red Sea and Gulf of  Aden, South Asian Seas, South-East Pacific, South Pacific, South-West Atlantic and West and Central Africa.8.See http://www.ogp.org/publications/index/html 9.http://www.oilandgasforum.net 10.Report of the Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority under article 166, paragraph 4, of the United NationsConvention on the Law of the Sea, ISBA/8/A/5, (7 June 2002).11.IMO, Report of the Twenty-Third Consultative Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the London Convention, LC 23/16 (10 December 2001).

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