Current Environmental Issues in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry

Short Description/Aims

The purpose of the course is to give a broad overview of the different environmental issues that are related to oil and gas operations offshore. The purpose is to review legal, scientific and technical aspects of environmental management from the perspective of the regulator as well as from the industry. The target group are professionals in the sector in charge of or responsible for various aspects of the exploration and production from offshore platforms. More in detail the course lectures will consider physical, chemical and biological features and phenomena of relevance to offshore oil and gas exploration and production. They will provide an overview of the environmental issues related to O&G industry impacting ocean and coastal ecosystems. Furthermore the lectures will consider impacts of exploration and regular production as well as decommissioning, strategic issues related to siting, environmental assessments, regulatory aspects, and technical requirements and best practices. Also the teaching will consider the impacts of related activities such as transport during exploration and production. In addition the course will provide an understanding of the legal regimes under IMO and the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea from the perspectives of the maritime industry. In addition through case studies the course will provide the technical knowledge into various tools, methods and approaches for managing environmental issues.

Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the broad range of marine environmental issues related to the offshore O&G industry.
  • Appreciate the interconnected nature of human activities and their impacts on marine environmental quality, human well-being and sustainability.
  • Understand the composition and character of pollutants released from O&G exploration and production units.
  • Understand how Environmental Impact Assessments are designed and how to use the results of such investigations.
  • Understand how to plan and carry out regular environmental monitoring and how to analyze results of such studies. 
  • Have an overview of international regulations in relation to the role of national regulations. 
  • Understand how to apply industry best practices 

Course Outline

  • Environmental issues related to coastal industries and ports
  • Legal and regulatory aspects of marine management
  • Oceanography and offshore maritime activities
  • Seismic disturbances
  • Drilling wastes and their management
  • Ecotoxicological and physical aspects of wastes and spills from offshore activities
  • Accidental situations
  • Accepted methods for EIA and Strategic EIA
  • Principles and methods for marine monitoring
  • Decommissioning of oil installations: Technical and scientific considerations

Teaching & Learning Methods

Five days of lectures and group exercises, practical demonstrations, several case studies will be used.

Day 1. Introduction, basic concepts, environmental issues related to O&G, toxicological and physical aspects of wastes and spills.

Day 2. IMO safety and environmental regulations for ships involved in offshore oil and gas activities, terms and definitions; relevant MARPOL regulations, in particular, those under MARPOL Annex I; SOLAS and mandatory codes; other IMO Conventions, including BWM, AFS, OPRC and London Convention; relevant non-mandatory codes and guidelines; and on-going discussions at IMO on regulatory framework for ships involved in offshore oil and gas activities

Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment for offshore O&G operations. Theory, objectives and SEIA Process. Best Industry Practice. Stakeholder engagement and capacity building. Case Study examples from East and West Africa and the Middle East.

Day 3. Marine monitoring programs for offshore O&G operations, interpretation of results. Seismic surveys, drilling and drilling wastes, sources, types (chemical composition) and volumes of discharges from drilling to water and air, drilling accidents and accidents during transport. Best Industry Practice. 

Day 4. The history of overboard discharges from oil and gas industry, including drill cuttings, produced water, flaring emissions, and accidental discharges. Lessons learnt – improvements in both science and technology. The North Sea example – a mature hydrocarbon province with different environmental regimes

Managing the environmental consequences of decommissioning: Case example:  Brent Spar – the first time scientists, NGOs, the public and industry came face to face. Case examples – NW Hutton field. Putting the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry into a wider context of anthropogenic influences on the ocean.

Day 5. Decommissioning O&G infrastructure: Context and Regulation, the legal framework, gaining approval to decommission- the regulatory process, Decommissioning to-date, Cessation of Production and beyond, Well P&A, Pipeline and subsea, Facilities – substructures and topsides, Onshore dismantling, On-going liabilities

Who should attend

Professionals dealing with Environmental Management in the Offshore Oil and Gas industry

Additional Information

This course is delivered as part of the WMU M.Sc. Programme and participants will complete the course alongside the WMU Class of 2014 students. As a Professional Development Course participant you can choose to Audit the course and earn a Certificate of Attendance or take the assessment and earn a Certificate of Accomplishment together with 4 ECTS.

Mr. Olof Linden, Professor and Director of Research, WMU: Almost half of the remaining recoverable conventional oil is estimated to be in offshore fields. At present about one third of the world’s oil production comes from offshore and deep-water extraction. As the older fields on land and in shallow water decline the focus is shifting towards reserves in deep (500-1500 meters) and ultra-deep (deeper than 1500 meters) water. In addition the interest in the Arctic is growing. Deep-water oil production raises huge technological, regulatory and environmental challenges. The WMU Course “Current Environmental Issues in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry” is reviewing the current best practices in environmental management of offshore oil and gas operations.

Mr. Yoshinobu Takei, Associate Professor, WMU: Oil and gas has been produced from offshore fields for many decades. However, unfortunately, no international rules and standards at the global level providing for detailed regulation exist for oil and gas platforms in deep water, although they are dealt with in UNCLOS. In the absence of such rules and standards and in view of the rapid pace in the planning for deep-water drilling, coastal states and other relevant stakeholders must more actively engage in establishing better national and international regulations. National regulations vary considerably, but they need to be formulated and implemented in accordance with the international legal framework for the oceans, as reflected in UNCLOS.

Mr. Tian-Bing Huang, IMO: The term “ship” has a broad definition under IMO safety and environmental Conventions. For example, under MARPOL Convention, ship is defined as a vessel of any type whatsoever operating in the marine environment and includes hydrofoil boats, air-cushion vehicles, submersibles, floating craft and fixed or floating platforms. Therefore,for those involved in offshore oil and gas activities, either fixed or floating platforms including drilling rigs, floating production, storage and offloading facilities (FPSOs) and floating storage units (FSUs), or various types of offshore supporting (supply) vessels, are considered as ships and applicable to IMO safety and environmental Conventions. On the other side, those ships are allowed for a wide range of exemptions and equivalents by Administrations (flag States) due to their unique characteristics. This lecture will give an in depth overview of applicable IMO safety and environmental regulations for ships operating in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Ms. Ingunn Nilssen, Statoil Research, Development and Innovation, Trondheim, Norway: Monitoring of the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) provides a comprehensive system for monitoring the offshore oil and gas industry. The purpose of the environmental monitoring is to gain an overview, and knowledge, of the extent of pollution from the offshore activity, including environmental effects and to gain an overview of the general conditions and the developments concerning the various installations in the area. The results from the environmental monitoring are used to provide early warning of aggravation of the environmental situation. Results are also useful in preparation of forecasts for expected environmental conditions and for the verification of models for calculating environmental risk as a function of the existing and expected discharges from the offshore industry. The results are also useful for the verification of the laboratory-based research to increase the knowledge of possible environmental impacts of discharges from petroleum activity and for the assessment of the risk of damage to the environment and ecological effects. The reports and results from the environmental monitoring are publically available once they have been reported. Environmental monitoring at sea includes both monitoring of seabed sediments and the water column. Statoil is working on new and improved technologies for environmental monitoring to further improve our environmental performance.

Mr. Graham Shimmield, President and Executive Director, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science, ME, USA: The oil and gas industry has a long history or accidental and deliberate discharges to the marine environment. Changing technologies and regulations have dramatically improved the environmental discharge, although profound legacy (eg drill cuttings) impacts remain. The type and nature of all discharges, including accidental ones, will be reviewed with case examples. In areas such as the North Sea, the natural marine environment plays a key role in both modulating, and responding, to environmental discharges. At the end of the installation’s useful life, such legacy impacts come to the forefront, for instance during the debate on the future of Brent Spar in 1995, which will be reviewed as a case example of science, policy and public opinion. The legacy and biogeochemistry of drill cuttings will be discussed in detail.

Mr. Richard Heard, Managing Director, Strategic Decom, Abredeen, UK.: Worldwide, the nature and magnitude of offshore installations continues to grow. With this growth comes the “end of life” question. Determining the regulatory process associated with decommissioning is a major legal and environmental problem. Nevertheless, decommissioning has started to take place and examples will be given. The decommissioning engineering associated with topsides, subsea installations and pipelines is complex. Sophisticated facilities to handle this engineering are required both at sea and onshore. However, any proposed scheme carries potential ongoing liabilities for both the operator and tax payer.

Mr. Björn Kristoffersen, Director, Eco-Management Support, Sandnes, Norway: Due to the increasing focus on extraction of oil and gas resources around the world, many countries have implemented or are in the process of developing a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for the petroleum sector in their country. Experience has demonstrated that SEA is a powerful and operational instrument to ensure that environmental concerns (including socio-economic aspects) are integrated into Policies, Plans and Programmes, and into laws and regulations. The earlier the SEA can be implemented, the more relevant and effective is the tool. Although there are several examples on “international best practice” on SEA, which can be used as reference and guidance for experience transfer to the region, there is always a strong need that the SEA is adapted to local conditions and potential transboundary challenges. This is especially the case in shared waters such as the Western Indian Ocean, the North Sea and the Mediterranean.

Delivery dates

25 Aug 2014 to 29 Aug 2014

Course length

5 days

EC Credit

2.5 EC

Mode of Delivery

Open Enrollment


Olof Lindén

Professor, Nippon Chair in Marine Environmental Management, Dr. Linden also holds a part time professorship in Coastal Management at the University of Kalmar.

Tianbing Huang

Mr. Huang joined the International Maritime Organization in July 2008, having worked in China Maritime Safety Administration after graduating from Dalian Maritime University in 1992 with a degree in maritime administration, and from from the World Maritime University in 1999 with an M.Sc. in Maritime Affairs, specializing in Maritime Safety and Environment Protection Administration.

Ingunn Nilssen

Ingunn Nilssen is working as a principal researcher in environmental technology at Statoil’s research center in Trondheim, Norway. 

Ingunn is Cand. Scient. (MSC) in marine biology from the university of Oslo, Norway. After finalising her studies she worked for the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority for 7 years with executive work related to the petroleum industry. Her fields of work covered subject such as discharge permits, national and international legislation, produced water related issues, environmental monitoring and foreign aid programmes. 

Graham Shimmield

Dr. Shimmield received his B.Sc. degree (with honors) from the University of Durham (UK) in 1981 and his Ph.D from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1985. He currently serves on the executive committee of the Board of Directors of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership in Washington DC.  He previously served, among other positions, as Chairman of the European Census of Marine Life (2004-2008) and as a member of the UK International Polar Year Committee (2005-2008).  Dr.

Richard Heard

Richard Heard is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with an Honours Degree from Kings College London.  Since graduating in 1985 he has worked for almost 30 years in the engineering consultancy sector, primarily in pipeline and subsea engineering in the UK, Australia and the USA. In 2005 he co-founded Xodus Group, a multi-disciplinary energy consultancy group and was responsible for establishing the company’s subsea business and development of their London operations.

Björn Kristoffersen

Mr. Björn Kristoffersen has been with Statoil for a number of years as Manager of Operations, Vice-President, Environment and Head of Environment and Society. Since 2008 he is Founder and Director of Eco-Management Support, a consulting company. He holds a Master's Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Technology, Trondheim.