Environmental Risk Assessment is a key element of a successful Environmental Management System. Hazards arise in all oil and gas exploration and production activities and risk management decisions should be based upon an understanding of these hazards, both in terms of environmental effects and the probability of occurrence. The purpose of the assessment process is to ensure that environmental risks are evaluated in a comprehensive and structured manner and that rational approaches are adopted to both the setting of acceptance criteria and the decision making and prioritising which forms an integral part of the risk management process.
This paper outlines various complementary techniques which can be employed to assist the risk management process and discusses their potential application in the preparation of an Environmental Case.
In order to manage environmental issues successfully, it is necessary to evaluate all possible environmental hazards which could arise from both routine operations and accidental events. Risk management decisions should be based upon an understanding of these hazards, in terms of both environmental consequences and probability of occurrence. While routine discharges are not strictly speaking a "risk" in that we know that they will occur on a regular or ongoing basis, the UKOOA Environmental Risk Assessment Workgroup decided to include routine events in the assessment process in order to develop a comprehensive methodology which can be used to aid decision making for all environmental aspects of the E&P lifecycle (exploration, appraisal, production, decommissioning).
Environmental assessments typically examine only the effects on the environment from accidental and operational discharges (e.g. oil spills, air emissions, waste disposal, ground contamination). In practice, the risk to the organisation extends more widely than this; reflecting regulatory, political and market pressures which stem from public concern about the environment, and which have a direct bearing on the company's profitability. Analysis of risk needs to take account of this wider context, including the potential for consumer action such as boycotts of products and services. There is therefore a need to incorporate these external elements into environmental management decisions. Individual organisations must set their own criteria which will take into account their company policy, area of operation and reputational goals. This paper outlines a methodology to address these factors in the risk management process.
The effectiveness of any environmental assessment and risk management process is dependent upon careful planning and execution of the various tasks within the timeframe of the overall activity. Hazard identification and therefore risk-based decision making is easier if it is undertaken proactively as an integral part of the activity in question, rather than as a critical review of decisions already undertaken. If risk management decisions are to be made in a timely and efficient manner it is important that the evaluation process is started as early as possible subject to the availability of the necessary information. When used this way, environmental management decisions will add value rather than being seen as a restrictive or negative constraint on progress, requiring rework and additional cost.
For a new development project, the environmental risk management process involves a number of stages, beginning with the evaluation of the overall sensitivity of the area and then becoming more precise and focused as the necessary detail becomes available in the project development cycle.