With an experience of more than 30 years in full-time positions in the oil & gas industry, of which over 26 years exclusively in the offshore segment, Constantin Gheorghe is currently President of the Competent Regulatory Authority for Black Sea Offshore Petroleum Operations (ACROPO).
In the past, he held various positions in Central and Eastern Europe, West and North Africa, Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and Persian Gulf. His extensive experience, both domestically and internationally, is doubled by a significant experience in management and coordination of operations.
Constantin Gheorghe discusses about ACROPO’s role and importance, as well as about the evolution of Black Sea operations, from the perspective of their safety and improvement of environmental quality in the Black Sea area under Romania’s jurisdiction.
Dear Mr. Constantin Gheorghe, please tell us what are the purpose and objectives of ACROPO. What tasks and competencies does the institution you coordinate have?
Constantin Gheorghe: To better understand our role, I believe it’s a good idea to start from the context!
And the context is simple: Romania is one of the largest gas producers in the European Union. We could say even that our country is one of the countries least dependent on imported gas.
Our tradition in the gas sector is known especially in onshore. That’s because, until several years ago, fields have been discovered onshore rather offshore.
But what changes entirely the approach are the new offshore discoveries: important gas fields in the Black Sea.
Romania is preparing itself for a great role in Europe, starting from the following certainty: 6 of the top 10 Black Sea fields are located in the territorial waters and in the exclusive economic zone of our country.
Therefore, Romania has the chance to double its role of electricity exporter in the region, with the role of natural gas exporter.
The Competent Regulatory Authority for Black Sea Offshore Petroleum Operations (ACROPO) has a key role in all these energy dynamics: to ensure that Black Sea gas operations are safe for the people and the environment!
This is exactly the reason ACROPO has been established for.
What are the levers you have available to ensure the safety of existing and planned operations?
Constantin Gheorghe: In order to ensure the safety of existing and planned operations, we have three main levers available:
- A strict regulatory framework applied in the offshore segment, framework establishing the minimum requirements for reaching the highest possible level of safety of operations;
- Evaluation of the documentation requested pursuant to the Law for the transposition of the Offshore Safety Directive, documentation which Operators must submit to ACROPO and through which they prove how they identify, assess and mitigate the risks of major accidents associated with the operations they plan to carry out;
- A regular monitoring throughout the duration of the projects on how the Operators apply the measures they have committed to take when they’ve submitted the documentation to ACROPO.
How was ACROPO established and which are its achievements so far?
Constantin Gheorghe: ACROPO was set up in September 2017, with the publication in the Official Journal of GD 688, which has defined the Functioning Framework along with the Organizational Chart of ACROPO.
We started from scratch. It was necessary to find people with experience in the offshore petroleum sector, endeavour which was not easy. However, in mid-2018 we’ve managed to have both the team and the secondary legislation (the regulatory framework).
We’ve continued with the organization of regular meetings with the offshore Operators, meetings aimed at clarifying any potential misunderstandings relating to the new regulatory framework applicable to the offshore field.
In parallel, we’ve initiated meetings with all the factors responsible in the offshore segment, at both local and national level, proposing and establishing agreements of inter-institutional cooperation with them, in order to align the national legislation applicable in our field of competence.
What programs/projects have you completed until today? Which other projects are currently in progress?
Constantin Gheorghe: Since mid-last year to date we have completed the assessment of 31 documents sent to us by the Titleholders, with a total volume of hours worked of 5372-man hours.
We have also carried out 8 inspections at the existing productive facilities and at two non-productive facilities, involved in two drilling projects.
We are presently getting ready for three extremely complex projects, which will start by the end of this year:
- First of all, the deep drilling operations will be resumed. Lukoil is preparing to start operations for drilling the Trinity-1X well, in Trident block;
- Secondly, Black Sea Oil & Gas will start the Midia Gas Project, for which it has already obtained the construction permit;
- We are also preparing to start the project of decommissioning of the Gloria productive rig, an extremely challenging project, the first of this type in the Black Sea.
The Black Sea is a bridge between production regions and consumption, being at the same time considered strategic for the energy policy of the European Union. What is the situation in Romania compared to other EU Member States in terms of response in case of major accidents potentially occurring during operations of hydrocarbon exploration/exploitation in this area?
Constantin Gheorghe: I have repeatedly stated it: Romania’s response capacity in cases of major accidents still needs improvement.
I would not make a comparison with the other Member States, because there are many different aspects.
The response required in case of a major accident must be adequate in capacity and quality and this is what we are working for with all the responsible public institutions.
The consequences of an inadequate response in a major emergency situation?
Constantin Gheorghe: The medium and long-term consequences are difficult to estimate or calculate.
I believe all public institutions responsible for ensuring a correct and efficient response to an emergency situation (multiple casualties and massive pollution) should sit together and put the cards on the table. We need to find the necessary solutions to counteract the consequences of a major accident offshore.
After we do that, we can call to discussions the representatives of the other riparian countries and present the solutions we have found, trying to find a common understanding and way forward at regional level. In this way, any major accident reported in the Black Sea area will have an adequate response, both in management and capacity.
After all, the Black Sea is the treasure we benefit all of us and we need to do whatever it takes to keep it in good condition.
Which are the partners (institutions) you collaborate with in such situations?
Constantin Gheorghe: We collaborate with all the public institutions responsible in the offshore and maritime segments, at the local and national level.
How do you plan to solve the issue of labour force in the sector you coordinate, given the lately reduction of the number of specialists in the oil and gas industry, for various reasons?
Constantin Gheorghe: You have raised an important issue. Although this is not included in our scope of work, we have offered our support with the aim to encourage the future graduates to turn their eyes to the offshore oil and gas sector, as well as to create a link between the academia and the providers of labour force involved in this field.
In this respect, we have already presented our offer both to the academia and the employers actually operating offshore in Constanta. This has been very well received and we are currently preparing a cooperation agreement between all the involved parties. Hope we will start our project soon and reap the benefits starting maybe as early as next year.
You have been nominated by the Government of Romania as the National Expert to represent Romania in the Offshore Safety Committee at the level of the European Commission. How does this experience influence the activity you carry out?
Constantin Gheorghe: It was an excellent opportunity to learn from the experience of the counterpart authorities in countries with tradition in the field. I refer especially to the countries bordering the North Sea.
I added this experience to the expertise I had in this field in which I have activated for more than two decades.
Two Romanian drilling rigs have been accepted to operate offshore North Sea. What lessons have been learned from this activity?
Constantin Gheorghe: I can proudly say that I was the one who has coordinated this project from the position of Corporate QHSE Manager for two company’s drilling rigs entering the first time in the North Sea area.
It was the first experience of this type and it was successfully completed, being accepted by the Regulatory Authorities of the respective countries and being able to start operation in the respective offshore sectors.
What did we learn from this experience? We’ve understood both the level of the regulatory requirements and the relationship which has to be established between Operator and the Authority, lessons taken into account during the first steps since ACROPO has made.
Currently, the offshore operations carried out in the Romanian continental shelf of the Black Sea register quite a slow pace. How do you assess the future development of activities in this area?
Constantin Gheorghe: The major projects are about to start, in both shallow and deep waters. I expect that, starting with the last quarter of this year, offshore petroleum operations in the Romanian Black Sea sector will increase significantly and maintain at a high level at least for 3-4 years from now.
During Oil & Gas Tech 2019 Conference you said that Romania registers a regional premiere, namely the decommissioning of an offshore rig in the Black Sea. Can you provide more details? Which are the challenges relating to these operations?
Constantin Gheorghe: It is indeed the first such project in the Black Sea. A premiere!
An extremely challenging project in terms of risks involved, risks due especially to the age of the offshore rig that is subject to decommissioning.
We have offered our support to the Operator of the rig to provide advice in terms of finding the safest option and we are waiting for the related documentation to assess it and officially state our point of view.
Hope everything will go smooth and safe, for everybody’s benefit.
Do you believe Romania can represent an example for the countries bordering the Black Sea in terms of measures to protect and preserve the marine environment?
Constantin Gheorghe: The Offshore Regulatory Authority in Romania has a quite high level of regulation, level which is quite often assimilated to that of similar authorities in the countries bordering the North Sea. This has been highlighted by the other European offshore competent authorities, during our periodical meetings.
We wish to export our expertise, as well as the projects we consider to improve the level of safety in offshore petroleum operations to all the countries bordering the Black Sea, whether EU Member States or not.
Some of these projects are pioneering in this area and Romania can be the driver determining the implementation of these projects, with a huge benefit for all riparian countries.