The drive towards cost-effectiveness in the North Sea petroleum industry also has implications for environmental issues. Operating in one of the globally most productive waters of the world, with significant natural resources, as well as changing and ever stricter regulatory practices, are ongoing challenges for operators on the Norwegian continental shelf. Comprehensive and up-to date information on resource distribution and vulnerability, commercial fishing activities, as well as areas of increased sensitivity and regulatory restrictions are needed by the operator.

Initiated in 1989, the Marine Resources Data Base (MRDB™) has received increasing interest from operators on the Norwegian continental shelf. From the four operating companies initiating the project in 1989, an additional six companies has joined the program by the end of 1994. The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority (SFT) has also joined the project. MRDB contains information of more than 24 000 vulnerable sites and areas along the 66 000 km Noiwegian coastline and the 1 000 000 km2 of Norwegian waters and economical zone. The information may be selected on any combination of 60 different characteristics, and presented on maps, tables or in electronic file formats.

Recognizing the need for state-of-the-art technology, the steering committee decided on a conversion of the data base to standard off-the-shelf digital mapping software (Arc/Info and Arc View 2) in 1994. The rationale for the decision was that MRDB should form a central element in the environmental management process, with an open interchange format to other information types.

Other types of spatial information relevant for environmental impact assessments and analysis can be interactively related to resource distribution. Results from environmental monitoring surveys may be imported in a separate part of the database, and displayed and analyzed according to user needs. Also, results from numerical modeling tools, e.g. oil drift models and dispersion models may be imported into the system as separate map layers - allowing selection of vulnerable resources on the basis of geographical location and distribution of concentration contours/contaminated areas.

A series of theme maps are designed, where resource types are separated logically, according to inherent characteristics of resources and relevance for the analysis to be carried out.

MRDB is installed at each of the member companies, usually on a server. The system is used as a management tool for the companies HSE staff, forming a cost effective way to carry out environmental assessments. Examples of use include contingency planning, environmental impact assessments of exploration and production activities, environmental risk analyses, applications for exploration drilling, as well as company-specific policy evaluations and implementations.

Future options for development include dynamic linking to numerical dispersion models for emissions and discharges, ecological sensitivity, damage assessment, as well as economic costing. The general applicability and relevance of the concept is considered a sound basis for developing management tools also for regions other than Norway.

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