« October 8th at 1630 hours: Equinor reports loss of well control on the exploration well «Staalull». Large amounts of crude oil flow continuously from the seabed at the depth of 1200 feet. An oil spill from the exploration well has a potential for landfall within five days. The oil characteristics are unknown. Equinor is unable to control the well and needs to start planning for a relief well. This may take several months. »

This is a potential scenario for a major oil spill and the exercise planned for the Norwegian coast, October 2019. Approximately 600 responders were involved.

The intention was to test Equinor and NOFO (The Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies) and their ability to handle a long-lasting oil spill in a safe and secure manner – within all barriers.

The exercise involved Equinor CMT (Crisis Management Team), IMT (Incident Management Team), NOFO, offshore and nearshore vessels, aircraft, digital SCAT (Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique) surveys and beach cleaning operations at different locations onshore.

The main goal of the exercise was interaction and communication within and between the different response organisations. The intermediate objectives were 1) establish a common situational awareness and 2) communicate accurate information at the right time to affected parties.

The exercise took place at seven different locations in Norway and establishment and maintenance of situational awareness throughout the response organisation was crucial to the effective handling of the incident. This required effective communication and information sharing throughout all levels. The incident management is based on the Incident Command System (ICS), but modified to align with Norwegian conditions.

During the exercise we performed an extensive evaluation of all the organisations; with feedback to and from the personnel involved. The result of the evaluation, lessons learned, and implementation of improvements within the organisations involved, will improve the Norwegian industry's ability to manage long-lasting oils spills in the future.

Norway and the Norwegian continental shelf

The Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) is the continental shelf over which Norway exercises sovereign rights. The area of the shelf is more than 2 mill square kilometres - four times the area of mainland Norway. - It constitutes about one-third of the European continental shelf and consists of the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea [figure 1]. The Norwegian continental shelf is rich in petroleum and gas and it is the basis of the Norwegian petroleum economy. The NCS has approximately 85 fields in production. In the mid 60's the first permissions for recovery were awarded, and 50 years later the petroleum sector is the most important industry in Norway regarding treasury income, investments and share of total wealth creation.

Regulations

The Pollution Act is administered by the Environment Agency and the act shall protect the outdoor environment against pollution and reduce existing pollution, reduce the quantity of waste and promote better waste management. Further it shall ensure that the quality of the environment is satisfactory, so that pollution and waste do not result in damage to human health or adversely affect welfare or damage the productivity of the natural environment and its capacity for self-renewal. The Activities Regulations chapter 13 concerns emergency preparedness and states that the operator or the party responsible for operating a facility shall prepare a strategy for emergency preparedness against hazard and accident situations. The emergency preparedness against acute pollution shall cover the ocean, coast and shoreline.

The concept of barriers

In Norway, the concept of barriers is used to determine the required response in a way that best describes the operational conditions [figure 2]. The barrier concept corresponds to the various zones in which the oil must be tackled and is in accordance with international standards, e.g. IPIECA.

  • Barrier 1 is as close as possible to the source

  • Barrier 2 is between the source and the coast

  • Barrier 3 is areas close to the coast

  • Barrier 4 is stranded oil that can be remobilised

  • Barrier 5 is stranded oil

Private, municipal and governmental resources in Norway cooperate regarding oil spill contingency.

An operator is a private party and will impose mitigating actions in an oil spill accident on the NCS. The operating companies on the NCS have founded NOFO to handle oil spill operations through the NOFO agreement. This makes a cost-effective way of handling oil spill response. If an oil spill incident occurs on the NCS the operator will muster NOFO to attend the operational section of the spillage. Both Equinor and NOFO practice Incident Management System (IMS) to organise and execute response for handling incidents. NOFO administrate approximately 240 contracts regarding oil spill resources, relating to not only private partners, but also the government (Norwegian Coastal Administration) and the municipalities along the Norwegian coastline.

The municipal shall secure essential emergency preparedness for minor acute discharges caused by regular activity within the municipal. All municipalities in Norway participate in intermunicipal cooperation towards acute pollution (IUA) and this strengthens the local and regional emergency preparedness capability.

The Government, through The Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA), shall ensure emergency preparedness at larger oil spills which are not addressed by private or municipal resources and NCA are responsible for operation and development of the government's emergency preparedness. In a situation with extreme damage or potential for such - due to acute pollution, NCA can impose anyone to procure necessary material or personnel independent of a private or municipal situation.

The developed strategy for NOFO is to analyse, develop, train and implement an organisation that is robust enough to manage and endure a major oil spill on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, that will last for a minimum of 60 days. NOFO has through these last four years worked on building competence for the response personnel, signed new contracts with oil spill resources and have had an extensive training and exercise program within all barriers. To be able to test NOFOs alignment to the strategy NOFO decided in October 2018 to test the entire organisation, with strategic, operational and tactical resources in real play, using the Norwegian model as a foundation. Equinor agreed to to work together with NOFO on this and together plan and perform an exercise.

This paper will describe the planning, execution and evaluation of the exercise with primary focus on the execution and attainment of knowledge connected to the main objectives for the exercise. The conclusion is extracted from the exercise's main report.

Planning a full-scale exercise

An exercise is an important means of enhancing an organisation's ability to handle crisis and strengthen their preparedness. Through exercises an organisation can test and improve their systems, functions and competence and / or demonstrate the effect of implemented measures and changes.

Exercise Frohavet 2019 was planned as a full-scale exercise with reference to the method given by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB) [figure 3].

During the exercise; clothing, methods of work and equipment were applied as normal. This type of exercise often involves several actors from different businesses and operations and may therefore take place in different places at the same time, both in – and outdoor. Because a full-scale exercise usually includes several levels and actors, the planning phase is both complex and resource demanding.

All the exercise partners agreed on a few common main objectives, then each organisation developed their own objectives based on the level of training and exercise requirements. It is important to emphasise that when setting the intention and the objectives for the exercise and throughout the planning phase the project management implemented the points of learning from earlier exercises.

The project was organised with a joint management between Equinor and NOFO. There were video conferences every week, with a fixed agenda and micro learning after each meeting for improvements. Workgroup leaders were assigned to manage different parts of the exercise planning; HSE (Health, Safety and Environment) management, evaluation, scenario and simstaff, field operations, communication and logistics.

After the initial planning and kick-off meeting with the organisations involved, three planning conferences were effectuated with all the stakeholders before conducting the exercise.

The intention of the first planning conference was for the project management to present the aim of the exercise, project organisation, framework and process. In addition, every partner then presented their own objectives for the exercise. This was important for the scenario group, who would go on to build a scenario to support these objectives. The second planning conference aimed at presenting the work from each workgroup, and then used the conference to perform workshops between the different organisations to plan in more detail in each assignment/group. There were also workshops for some specific exercise objectives e.g. handling oiled wildlife, this was to avoid starting from scratch during the exercise. The third planning conference intended to gather all “loose ends”, clear all possible misunderstandings and delete any objectives that one could or would not reach.

Exercise intention and main goals

The intention was to test Equinor and NOFOs ability to handle a long-lasting oil spill in a safe and secure manner – within all barriers. The exercise involved Equinor IMT, NOFO and its cooperation partners and oil spill resources. This included live operations offshore and nearshore with vessels, aircraft, digital SCAT surveys and beach cleaning operations at different locations onshore.

The main objective was to exercise interaction and communication within and between the different response organisations. The intermediate objectives were 1) establish a common situational awareness and 2) communicate accurate information at the right time to affected parties. The different organisations set their own objectives for the exercise.

Execution

To safeguard the main objective of practicing communication and situational awareness for the response organization, the “NOFO process for operational management” was used together with Equinor's DPN Incident Management plan throughout the exercise. In addition, prior to the exercise NOFO and Equinor trained the duty personnel who would perform the meetings between the two organisations. Both NOFO's and Equinor's processes are described as in the meeting agendas of the IMS.

Below is the daily meeting schedule [table 1] showing the meetings followed by NOFO OMT. Equinor attended and led the meetings labelled green. Yellow labels were meetings with field supervisors.

Below shows an overview of the attendees during the exercise. Approximately 600 persons were involved [table 2].

Organisation

The map below (figure 4) shows the different locations with activity during the exercise. Equinor was set up with the IMT and CMT in the Bergen region. The role of Oil Spill Branch Director was undertaken by NOFO and their emergency preparedness centre. The centre was situated in Sandnes; with operations carried out at different locations. The IUA's were situated in the central region of Norway.

Below is a simplified organisational chart of the entire incident management organisation during the exercise [figure 5].

To ensure a good and accurate communication between NOFO and Equinor an important objective was to establish a good desk-to-desk communication and coordination between the similar functions. For example; Air Operation Branch at Equinor IMT had direct contact with Air Coordinator at NOFO OMT. They divided the tasks and responsibility for air operations in order to effectively manage these operations .. Some functions like the environmental unit, attended video conference meetings where they discussed tasks that needed to be addressed and divided between themselves

Situational awareness

NOFO COP OSR is an essential system used during the exercise. It is a web-based map system which allows all responders to have the same perception of the situation [figure 6].

The main information extracted from the system [figure 7] is the following:

  • Oil distribution and oil slicks with discontinuous/continuous true colour based on satellite images.

  • Air flyovers and reports from the field.

  • Expected weathering, drifting and scattering of the oil based on wind and oceanic forecasts and oil type specifics.

  • Observations of shoreline impact and oiled wildlife.

  • Vessel and aerial resources with live AIS tracking.

  • Environmentally sensitive areas and other important sones onshore and offshore.

  • Site surveys carried out using NOFO SCAT application.

  • Pictures and videos from the various locations.

  • Open access to a limited number of maps to satisfy the vast need for information from the general public.

Evaluation

Throughout the planning phase the evaluation played a vital role. The intention of the evaluation was to document the process and achievements throughout the exercise, identify points of learning and to include these in an evaluation report for Equinor, NOFO and the IUA's. This knowledge can then be used to improve the relevant organisations. The evaluation was planned after DSB's “Evaluation of exercises”.

Questionnaires and data collection were used by all the organisations throughout the exercise. The completion of the evaluation differed slightly between the organizations, but the main steps were as follows:

Some of the response personnel received daily evaluation and feedback throughout the duration of the exercise. On the start of each day the Incident Commander, Planning Section Chief and Operation Section Chief (in Equinor) received information on the most important skills gained from the previous days.

The incident management team gave feedback to the evaluation team by the end of each day (Equinor)

Twice a day the project leaders, leaders of the evaluation team and sim staff leader met to discuss the need for any changes due to delivery of goals and workload of those involved in the exercise.

All the involved units (each IUA, NOFO and Equinor) have written their own evaluation report each of which is an attachment in the main evaluation report.

Throughout the planning, execution and evaluation all the organisations involved experienced a high degree of learning; both internally and amongst the organizations.

In incidents of such complexity and impact NOFO plays an important role in the interaction between the different organizations and units. NOFO put into practice the objectives described from the operator and must make this feasible for the responders. Furthermore, NOFO plays a key role in assimilating the correct information from the vessels and the different IUA's - giving NOFO and the operator the possibility to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures both offshore and onshore.

What has shown to be of importance in this exercise is the amount of advance preparation to ensure a good and necessary communication in the meetings between NOFO and Equinor. Prior to the exercise we rehearsed the teams for a six-week period so they could be even more able to work together on the goals set by Equinor each day. The experiences from the six-week period and Exercise Frohavet have resulted in some changes in our steering system on how to conduct the meetings. Equinor and NOFO had good cooperation throughout the exercise.

Even though Equinor and NOFO are localised on different sites we work together on one Action Plan (AP). There is however a challenge regarding the preparation of the Plan since NOFO used ICS nomenclature in the AP and Equinor used their internal template for AP. These were known risks and are still an area of improvement that need to be further addressed.

During the exercise we experienced that NOFO's cooperation with IUA and the supervisors was not optimal. However, there were improvements on a day to day basis. In relation and prior to Exercise Frohavet NOFO and Equinor did not perform any table top or smaller training sessions with the different IUA. Lack of such training platforms may have resulted in less success than anticipated. There is a need to progress and improve the process in NOFO regulating this cooperation together with further development of NOFO ST who can act as a catalyst in these matters.

There was a lot of lessons learned regarding interaction and teamwork between the IUA's and IGSA (barrierer 4). One of the main takeaways regarding this is that we should have performed a proper brief at the start of the exercise where all the participants were given the chance to introduce themselves and their knowledge / previous experience. There were also some issues regarding the communication system that were used. Within the IUA's the different actors communicated on dissimilar junction; the firefighters and involved municipals used “Emergency network/Tetra radios” while the resources from NOFO used VHF. This should have been addressed during the risk analysis prior to the exercise.

One of the aspects of the exercise was to manage a long-lasting oil spill. Equinor manned their IMT with a 12-hour shift and NOFO manned their OMT with two 8-hour shifts. This demanded a lot of resources and NOFO had to invite and enable approximately 50 persons who are not normally a part of NOFO's response team. The experience taken from this was that personnel with ICS roles in their own company quickly adapted to NOFO's way of working in contrast to personnel without ICS experience. In addition, NOFO's emergency organisation got valuable experience from those who brought with them ICS competence from their own company.

Digital solutions and internal processes within both Equinor and NOFO make cooperation on different sites possible and expedient. This allows both contributing personnel in the field and NOFO / Equinor to be at different locations, using their own equipment and still have access to key information and shared documentation / information. However, in a long-lasting operation it may be more practical to gather the oil spill emergency response team in one location to ensure resilience and optimal continuity. It is complex to run the incident management with so many responders in different locations. Communication technology like skype, teams e.g. helped us manage the incident properly irrespective of multiple locations. The lessons learned from earlier exercises have shown that the response personnel in NOFO perform much better when they can work with IT systems in which they have had previous training. NOFO use their own incident management tool MIMIR that is connected to NOFOs management system and the NOFO Common Operational Picture (NOFO COP). For example, all the resources that are requested and deployed in MIMIR are identified in the NOFO resource system (updated daily) and will furthermore automatically be plotted in the NOFO COP map with key information and AIS tracking (if available).

The overall impression is that the exercise was well accomplished and has been beneficial from a learning point of view. Several points for improvement and follow-up have been identified. Below is an overview of the overall achievements of main and intermediate objectives of Exercise Frohavet [table 3].

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