The Black Sea remains the most important promise for the Romanian energy industry, both because of the available hydrocarbon resources and because of the wind energy potential. There is interest expressed by private investors – fiscal and legislative stability remain to be clarified. Also, the obligations on the prevention of environmental risks and workplace safety remain to be cleared. We spoke with Gabriela Dan, Secretary of State and President of ACROPO, to discover that when we take into account the massive horizontal impact of such projects, things get even much more complicated.
Dear Mrs. Gabriela Dan, you have been running the Competent Authority for the Regulation of Offshore Petroleum Operations (ACROPO) for only a few months. Too little for conclusions, but probably long enough for an initial assessment. What can you tell us about the Authority, institutionally and functionally? Is it what it takes to accomplish its tasks?
Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to talk about ACROPO and the tasks of the Authority! I have taken over the mandate, the duties and the outstanding files since 9 March, so I think we can talk about a review of the work after the first 3 months. In addition to the administrative responsibilities related to the functioning of the Authority and the signing of hundreds of papers, I have addressed numerous topics: establishing collaborative relations and meetings with representatives of Parliament, Government and Ministries, public institutions, oil operators, oil associations, embassies and competent authorities at European Union level. I also attended public events – thank you for the invitation of March 25, 2021, from Spring Cocktail!
Since taking office, we have tried to present our day-to-day work, as well as all the information of public interest, both on our website and on our Facebook page. Transparency is part of the priorities of my mandate, so I invite you to check the website and tell us what we could improve.
Functionally, I want us to take quick steps towards digitisation, signing documents and transmitting them electronically, as well as to reduce paper consumption. We must, however, bend to the legislation regarding the archiving of documents, but also to the procedures imposed by the Government in the interinstitutional relationship. We can boast with a 24% coverage of electronic signatures, but streamlining processes to become digital is a little slower than I would like. Before 8 March 2021, I was working with documents in shared drives and completely digitized validation streams for documents, with no handwritten signatures and stamps. I am delighted, however, that the Government wants all ministries and government agencies to be linked in a single interoperable database via a government cloud, and for this EUR 500 million has been included in the NRRP. We need digitization to streamline all processes and especially to stop the paper from being moved between desks when all can be just a click away.
Back to ACROPO, I would like to mention that the competent authority was created under Law 165/2016 which represents the transposition into national law of the European Directive on the Safety of Offshore Operations, as it was understood then, in 2016. The European Directive is improving and we want to make improvements to the legislation to make our work more efficient and to make the European Directive as efficient as possible. We are currently in the process of re-evaluating Law 165/2016.
ACROPO works with operators and owners of oil plants (defined as productive and non-productive). The key to the safety of operations is a cooperation between our specialists and operators/owners of productive and unproductive installations.
From the perspective of ACROPO’s tasks, are all the preconditions to start effective hydrocarbon exploitation on the Black Sea currently met?
ACROPO has always had a pro-active approach, i.e. we did not wait to receive documentation to evaluate it, but we were open to the operators/owners to explain them the process, what documents are to be submitted, what is the necessary format, what is the time needed for evaluation and correction. Rather, ACROPO comes with solutions to ensure that operators/owners anticipate this phase of the project and especially that they take into account the evaluation phase of documentation on major hazards so that it is an integral part of the planning of activities to develop operating projects.
Each operator/owner has its planning, and the documentation that is submitted to ACROPO is not meant to hinder projects, but only serves to ensure that they are carried out safely.
I was at sea this weekend, with the research boat of colleagues from INCD GeoEcoMar and I could see the fixed platform at Ana well in the Midia Gas Development project that was installed this spring. This fixed platform weighs 1,100 tons and is 110 meters tall, 69 meters below sea level. The platform has been fixed by beating pillars that provide its foundations and stability. Another top-side structure will be placed above this platform. The evaluation of the documentation received by ACROPO for such operations shall be followed by inspections to ensure compliance with the items analysed from our desk
You have become involved in public debates about Romania’s offshore wind potential. Will ACROPO have direct responsibilities in such projects?
My professional experience and the time I spent developing offshore wind projects off France, as well as in other geographical areas, have prompted me to get involved to help develop offshore wind projects. On several occasions, I approached many European Commissioners that I met at international congresses to ask them why Romania did not appear on the map of offshore wind projects. The answer was clear: unstable and unfavourable political context. Now, however, in the current programme of government, we find ambitions and objectives undertaken by the government, and at the parliamentary level, there is a desire to create a stable and predictable legislative framework.
Romania must take on the energy transition in an active manner by encouraging the gas operations that will make the transition to offshore renewable wind resources. ACROPO wants to be part of this energy transition process, and our involvement in gas projects and the development of offshore wind projects will be within the limits of the legislative tasks and of course of the experience of our advisers. We certainly have offshore experience, in project development and operations safety. This will not have to be reinvented but only adapted from hydrocarbons to offshore wind. In this respect, I have already participated in a discussion in the Romanian Parliament and initiated interinstitutional collaborations.
Hydrocarbons and wind – any project in the Black Sea depends on the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan. What stage is this document at?
I am glad that you addressed this subject, which has been one of my priorities in these nearly three months of work. In short, ACROPO is part of the Maritime Planning Committee, according to HG 406/2017, which approved the Regulation on the organisation, operation and nominal composition of the members of the Maritime Planning Committee. ACROPO wanted to be involved in this committee as early as 2019.
Following discussions and meetings with MDLPA, I understood why this Committee has never been convened and could not work to finalise the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan. It is a strange situation, and the problem starts with HG 406/2017 itself which defines the nominal composition of the committee. When I say nominal composition, I say that they have been put in the Annex of the HG, people with their first and last names! These individuals are no longer working in the ministries or institutions of which they were members in 2017. A hallucinatory situation for me, even though I knew the legislation was disastrous. This is a typical example of how to block an important development project for Romania. Was it a government decision made maliciously? I do not know exactly, but I have forwarded to the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office and the General Secretariat of the Government the situation regarding the Maritime Planning Committee. We have also conveyed our support for the HG change initiative that MDLPA has initiating to allow for the meeting of this long-awaited committee. I can say that the MDLPA team has been working, although the committee has not, and I am convinced that once we fix the mistake made by the 2017-2018 government, we will be able to complete the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan through effective interinstitutional cooperation.
The first step to the implementation of the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan is an inventory of existing activities. Possible activities, uses and interests may include aquaculture areas; fishing areas; installations and infrastructures for the exploration, exploitation and extraction of crude oil, gas and other energy sources, minerals and aggregates, as well as for the production of energy from renewable sources; shipping routes and traffic flows; military training areas; nature and species conservation sites and protected areas; raw material extraction areas; scientific research; routes of cables and submarine pipelines; tourist activities; underwater cultural heritage. These activities can be presented in the form of thematic maps or atlases, online, to have a spatial distribution of existing activities and allow planning of future activities.
Romania must aim to develop activities that support the energy transition and thus take into account the development of wind energy parks, wave energy, green resource energy and hydrogen energy. All these new activities must cohabit with current activities, create possible synergies and lead to the development of local infrastructure that must meet the needs of these new activities.
How does ACROPO engage in the definition and implementation of the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan?
Regarding the involvement of ACROPO in the definition of the Maritime Spatial Planning Plan, we are available and enthusiastic to contribute, based on the duties conferred by law, both through the involvement of ACROPO advisors and through my experience as a doctor of marine geology and specialist in the coordination of bibliographic studies, desktop studies, carried out in the private sector in the framework of marine infrastructure development projects (Oil&Gas, wind, power cables and telecommunications cables). Oil&Gas and wind development projects can easily cohabit in the Black Sea, we just need to be able to discuss the Black Sea development vision in an inclusive way that allows the region to develop, create new infrastructure and jobs. We will be here to ensure that offshore operations are carried out safely.
This interview firstly appeared in the printed edition of Energynomics Magazine, issued in June 2021.
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