The Oslo-Paris convention (Ospar)

person by Finn Harald Sandberg, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
An important duty for operators when removing platforms from the Norwegian continental shelf is to clear up and leave the area without future environmental threats. This derives from Norway’s obligations under the Ospar agreement.

This Oslo-Paris convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic – to give it its full name – came into force in March 1992.

In 1998, Ospar’s contracting parties agreed a special provision on redundant oil and gas installations known as Decision 98/3

This states: “The dumping, and the leaving wholly or partly in place, of disused offshore installations within the maritime area is prohibited”.

The 1992 agreement combined the 1972 Oslo convention on dumping in the sea and the 1974 Paris convention on land-based sources of marine pollution. It divides the north-east Atlantic into five zones, with I and II covering Norwegian waters.

As official body for Ospar in Norway, the environment ministry is responsible for national follow-up in this area. The Norwegian Environment Agency sits on and follows up work in four committees:

  • biological diversity
  • environmental impact of human activities
  • eutrophication (overfertilisation) and environmentally hazardous chemicals
  • the offshore oil and gas industry and monitoring.

The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority is responsible for following up Ospar’s work on radioactive substances.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Environment Agency – international environmental agreements (website visited 5 April 2019).

How does the convention work?

Ospar specifies that the necessary measures must be put in place to protect and preserve ecosystems and natural diversity in the north-east Atlantic.

Where necessary, it requires the contracting parties to ensure that maritime areas which have been significantly polluted are returned to their original status.

The convention lays the basis for collaboration on developing programmes to control human activities which affect nature in this region.

It comprises a main section with general provisions, plus five annexes governing prevention and elimination of pollution from land-based sources, dumping or incineration at sea, pollution from offshore source, monitoring and biological diversity.

Decisions on measures to regulate fishing are excluded. Where fishing is an important contributory factor, however, the committee can contact official fisheries regulators.

Work in Ospar is heavily affected by the EU’s marine strategy directive.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Official Journal of the European Union “Directive 2008/56/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 June 2008 establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive). This covers many of the same subjects dealt with by the convention, and countries are expected to collaborate regionally on this.

Norway’s view is that the directive should not be incorporated in the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA), which governs its relationship with the EU.

Nevertheless, it is important to have an arena for collaboration with the other signatory countries which belong to the EU.

In that way, Norway’s administration of its own sea areas through integrated management plans can be coordinated with the EU’s marine strategy. Regional conventions such as Ospar are then particularly relevant as collaboration fora.

However, an exemption from Decision 98/3 can be given for steel installations weighing more than 10 000 tonnes, concrete facilities and concrete moorings.

This provision made it possible for the Norwegian government to launch a consultation process in 2001 on leaving the concrete Ekofisk tank and its breakwater standing on the field.

The recommendation from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy to the Storting refers to the work done in relation to Ospar:

“Pursuant to Norway’s obligations under … the Ospar convention, the Norwegian government has conducted a consolation process with the other Ospar countries in connection with the disposal of the Ekofisk tank. This is required when recommending that specific categories of offshore installations are left in situ. The Ekofisk tank with its associated breakwater falls within these categories. The other Ospar countries have thereby been given the opportunity to comment on the recommended disposal solution. During the consultation process, no country has objected to leaving the Ekofisk tank and breakwater in place.”

The decision that these concrete structures should remain offshore was taken by the Storting on 11 June 2002.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Proposition nr 51 (2001-2002) on disposing of the Ekofisk tank with breakwater. See the separate article on clean-up.

This helped to create a precedent for later cessation programmes, such as the ones on the Anglo-Norwegian Frigg field and on Brent in the UK sector of the North Sea.

How decisions are taken and implemented

Work under the convention is administered by the Ospar commission, which comprises 15 member countries and the European Commission. Meetings of the commission are Ospar’s decision-making forum and normally take place once a year.

Contracting parties to Ospar are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.

The commission has produced regulations for human activity in order to protect ecosystems and natural diversity in the north-east Atlantic. Its work is supported by strategy committees, which are backed in turn by underlying work groups.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Environment Agency – international environmental agreements (website visited 5 April 2019).

Published 29. July 2019   •   Updated 29. July 2019
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