There is a distinct lifecycle sequence to the activities involved in the discovery and development of offshore oil and gas reserves. This sequence begins with licence acquisition then seismic survey, exploration and appraisal drilling, design and construction, production operations and finally decommissioning. Current industry environmental management practice typically considers the licensing and exploration phases separately. However it is now widely recognised that this approach can be improved by considering the entire lifecycle, and by adopting a risk-based, "fit-for-purpose" Environmental Case approach.

Essentially the Environmental Case approach involves the application of the company Environmental Management System to a specific project throughout its lifecycle. As a structured document it will specifically contain:- a description of the environment, a description of the activities being undertaken, an assessment of the potential impacts of these activities to the environment, a description of the mitigation/control measures proposed to minimise impacts to an acceptable level, the operational management activities necessary to implement these measures, and the monitoring and reporting actions in place to record the effectiveness of the management programme and compliance with the planned activities. Whilst there are parallels with aspects of the now familiar Safety Case, there are also significant differences.

The mechanisms of this holistic approach have still to be developed, however the benefits to the industry are numerous.

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