Operational diving, with the use of divers, has been essential for the development of the North Sea oil and gas fields since the beginning of this activity, and it still is In the early phase of the oil activity in the North Sea, It was stated that the development of monobaric diving systems and diverless systems would very soon diminish the need for hyperbaric diving. Today, it must be concluded that these predictions were quite optimistic and not in line with the development we have actually seen.

Eventhough the development of several deep oil and gas fields is now planned to be performed without the use of divers as the solution, hyperbaric diving will still be needed at least as a back-up for the diverless system

Operational diving has moved to considerably deeper depths during the last 10 years, demanding new equipment and procedures In order to be able to perform the required operation with a maximum of safety for the divers involved

Considering the importance of hyperbaric diving during the oil exploration of the North Sea, both in terms of what has been completed and of the work that still lies ahead, the technical development related to this activity is not satisfactory

A likely reason for the present status is a belief in the early predictions that most of the future exploration and development could be managed without the use of divers. Based on this expectation, there was a hesitation to use too much money on research and development aimed at hyperbaric diving.

However, there has not been a complete stand still. In some areas of equipment development, the progress can quite clearly be demonstrated

Breating Equipment

During the last few years, closed circuit breathing systems, as well as breathing regulators with improved breathing resistance have been developed. Closed circuit or semi-closed ball-out systems from several manufacturers are in their final stage of development.

Several factors have stimulated this activity. One is the price of helium. The consumption of helium using open circuit breathing systems would cause the total price of the diving operation to reach a level which could hardly be accepted Development of closed or semi-closed systems was a natural way of attacking this problem. For the development of breathing systems, requirements for performance as specified by the Department of Energy, U K, and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate have been most important, setting a performance goal for the manufacturer of the equipment as well as for the responsible operating oil company Eventhough improvements of the breathing systems have been obtained, this part of the divers' equipment clearly demonstrates one of the major problems in the development and manufacturing of such equipment. Little coordination and planning goes into making the different elements of the equipment to make sure that the various parts are integrated without any deterioration in function and with overall ergonomic acceptance.

Parts such as breathing equipment, gas heating equipment, communications system, noise protection and the diving helmet should all be designed and integrated into one unit with optimal ergonomic and functional performance for each separate element. This is not yet the situation.

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