Safety and Sustainability at Ekofisk: 50 years and still learning

By Jan Hester

For the past 50 years, ConocoPhillips’ Ekofisk development has embraced a culture of continuous safety and environmental improvement. Located in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, the facility’s robust safety culture was inspired in part by earlier incidents: a blowout on Ekofisk 2/4 B in April 1977 and the capsizing of the Alexander L. Kielland accommodation platform in March 1980.


“Incidents from over 40 years ago are what put safety on the front burner,” said Kjell Rune Skjeggestad, manager, HSE Norway. “The company has certainly become a safety leader in Norway over the years.  We’ve come a long way since 1969 by maintaining our focus on continuous improvement.”

In 2001, the business unit introduced personal safety involvement, a program that encourages people to initiate safety dialogues about the work being performed. Skjeggestad notes that these conversations have had a positive impact on the safety culture.

Kjell Rune Skjeggestad

ConocoPhillips’ companywide Life Saving Rules introduced minimum requirements for performing high-risk tasks such as lifting operations, working at height, confined space entry and electrical isolation.

“The Life Saving Rules have helped us enforce our safety culture in a very positive way,” Skjeggestad said. “Supervisors perform field verifications and measure them. What gets measured gets more focus. This process has helped us extend rules from the office to the workforce in a more effective way.”

The ConocoPhillips Norway health, safety and environment (HSE) team also focuses its efforts on operational integrity: ensuring that requirements and procedures are accurate, user-friendly and easy to follow.

“When rules are too comprehensive, people may find ways to bypass them. If people are trained correctly, the procedures make sense. Supervisors perform follow-up checks, contributing to a stronger foundation for ensuring the job is done correctly.”

Skjeggestad notes that strong relationships with the workforce makes this intense focus on safety possible.

“It has taken us years to build this strong HSE culture. Management engagement is key, leading by example, and talking about what’s important,” said Skjeggestad. “Once you’ve established a good culture, you have the challenge of keeping it going.” 

Environmental responsibility

Norway is deeply committed to protecting the environment, and the nation’s offshore industry has one of the lowest emissions per produced unit rates in the world. Since 1991, Norway has had carbon taxes, with the highest rate on oil and gas production. There is also broad political consensus that the country should take responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through an active national policy.

ConocoPhillips Norway is proud to play a role in these successes and remains vigilant in making its operations even cleaner.

“We continue to work a lot on sustainable development,” Skjeggestad said. “Paying a tax for CO2 emissions has motivated us to find ways to lower them. From 2000 to 2018, we have executed emissions reduction projects that amount to savings of 220,000 tons of CO2.”

Among the many steps being taken, the business unit upgrades or replaces large machinery with low-emission equipment when performing changeouts and upgrades. “Like automobiles, new equipment generally has lower emissions,” Skjeggestad said.

Eimund Garpestad

To further reduce the impact, during the past five years, the Norway business unit has upgraded installations both at the Ekofisk and Eldfisk fields.

“We’ve modernized installations to make them more energy-efficient, including upgrading the waste heat recovery unit (WHRU) and improving the power management system by running a new power grid with electric cables between Ekofisk and Eldfisk (2015). We installed a new power cable to Eldfisk 2/7 B in 2019. By installing a water injector header, we have created a more efficient water injection process, and we increased efficiency by running one pump instead of two in parallel without reducing regularity,” said Eimund Garpestad, director, Environment & Sustainable Development.

The WHRU at Eldfisk generates 9 megawatts of electricity each day, enough to supply the Eldfisk field with electrical power. Sustainable development efforts also include lowering oil-in-water concentration in produced water before discharging it into the sea.

“We use the best available techniques to do things in as an environmentally sound manner as possible,” Garpestad said.

Another initiative to reduce environmental impact is installing hybrid backup batteries on supply ships, cutting diesel emissions by 15% and reducing costs. The business unit is looking into doing the same for drilling rigs.

Norway was the first oil-producing country to announce its support for the World Bank’s initiative to end routine gas flaring by 2030. A total ban on non-emergency flaring on the Norwegian continental shelf was introduced in 1971.

To further reduce the impact of flaring, the Norway team is planning to install new technologies for flare gas recompression at the Ekofisk field. “Instead of burning the gas, we can now recompress and sell it,” Garpestad said.

ConocoPhillips Norway is playing a role in the national debate around how the oil industry fits into the picture of the country’s sustainable future. 

“We work closely with the authorities, and we are part of that dialogue,” Skjeggestad said. “We produce to high environmental standards with low emissions. Many improvements have been made, and we continue to pursue further reductions and innovative solutions to become even better. Our motto is ‘50 years and still learning.’”

ConocoPhillips Norway: Sustainable operations in the North Sea

Managing water

  • Offshore operations use no potable water and have minimized use of fresh water.
  • Potential impacts from produced water being discharged into the sea have been studied for more than 20 years, including in situ water column monitoring. Based on current knowledge, the environmental risk of discharging produced water is regarded as being very low.
  • 2019 performance goal for oil-in-water concentration in produced water discharge is three times lower than the regulatory limit.
  • Largest user of non-fresh water (seawater) for drilling and enhanced oil recovery.

Mitigating impact

  • Studied cod spawning in the North Sea to mitigate impact from seismic surveys on the cod population.
  • As part of offshore decommissioning activities, removing and recycling offshore platforms to reduce footprint and restore marine habitat.
  • Several first-generation Ekofisk platforms installed in the 1970s have been removed and more than 97% (excluding hazardous waste) has been reused or recycled so far.

Curbing emissions

ConocoPhillips Norway contributed to reductions established by International Gothenburg Protocol (NOx emissions) through a number of projects that reduced emissions by approximately 280 tonnes per year, equivalent to the emissions from 300,000–400,000 diesel cars. These projects also reduced CO₂ emissions by approximately 60,000 tonnes.

  • Modified the electric power grid in the Greater Ekofisk Area; connected the Eldfisk field to Ekofisk by electric cable.
  • Upgraded the waste heat recovery system and steam-generated power system on Eldfisk, resulting in emission-free power production by eliminating diesel generators.
  • Modified the water injection header system, creating more efficient power production for injection of water into the field.
  • Installed a flared gas re-compressor on Eldfisk, allowing natural gas to be sold rather than flared.
  • Replaced two diesel-driven cranes with electric cranes on the Ekofisk 24 J platform. These cranes are powered by low NOx turbines and power from the electrical grid.

Source: ConocoPhillips 2018 Sustainability Report