A joint industry group was established in 1995 by the British Geological Survey (BGS)to investigate seabed conditions and evaluate the shallow geology west of the UK. This group is known as the Western Frontiers Association (WFA) and currently comprises 15 oil companies. Also within the group and acting as a focus of activity is the Health and Safety Executive (Offshore Safety Division) (HSE). The WFA was developed following a regional study by BGS, for HSE, two years earlier. The study illustrated that ground conditions to the west of Britain, were more varied than the North Sea and processes and hazards were less well understood.
The group was set up to consider the shallow geology of the continental margin west of the UK from the Western? Approaches in the south to the North Sea Fan in the north. It focused initially on the area west of Shetland including, and extending beyond the licensed areas. Following the 17th round of licensing, the WFA areas of focus have extended to include the Rockall Trough and the margin north of 61º40'N. The group has commissioned a wide range of studies to assess hazards such as shallow gas, slope stability and methane hydrates on a regional basis. Occasionally small area studies have been undertaken to examine a hazard m detail, where the results can be extrapolated regionally. Data acquisition has been undertaken on a regional basis and continued with operator's data and BGS7 previous regional surveys to compliment studies acquired by the commercial site survey industry.
In the past, exploration and development of hydrocarbons has been undertaken by oil companies in secrecy to create their 'Competitive Edge'. As a consequence highly individual approaches have produced different solutions to the same problem at considerable cost. Where there have been joint industry approaches, projects tend to have led to the development of appropriate standards and guidelines for various aspects of hydrocarbon exploration and development, including site investigation The joint industry approach allows the industry to speak a common language (eg UKOOA). There has been a change towards co-operation by oil companies in the last five years which has allowed information to be distributed and acted upon faster and more economically. With the UK this pursuit of efficiency gains is driven by the CRINE (cost reduction in the new era) initiative. The extent of sharing information varies according to topic because of the perceived economic value of the subject area, and the value of openness in subjects like the environment. This joint activity is happening in all frontier areas, eg "Deepstar" for the Gulf of Mexico and the "Deepwater Group" offshore mid-Norway. In 1995 the Western Frontiers Association (WFA) was established by the British Geological Survey to evaluate shallow geological conditions associated with frontier oil-exploration licensed areas west of the UK on the Atlantic Margin (Fig 1). Other joint industry groups have also been established covering oceanographic data (NWAG - North West Approaches Group) and environmental matters (AFEN - Atlantic Frontiers Environment Network).