Large-scale inspection of oil and gas platforms on the North Sea

Published on: 8 May 2024, 14:05 hrs - Latest update: 14 May 2024, 08:57 hrs

4 Rijkswaterstaat specialists have inspected around 600 oil and gas platforms over a period of 4 days, to check whether they are discharging any pollutants. To do this, the team boarded a Coast Guard aircraft, which had to fly 3800 km to complete this task.

The inspection is part of the so-called 'Tour d'Horizon'; a collaborative effort involving the Netherlands and 6 neighbouring countries monitoring the North Sea for pollution with oil and other hazardous substances. Possible contaminants were investigated and reported, regardless of whether they came from off-shore installations or sea-going vessels and passed on to the member states. 

The Coast Guard aircraft left Schiphol on Monday, 29 April 2024, on course to Stavanger in Norway. In the first 2 days of the Tour d'Horizon, some of the platforms were inspected, although no contaminants were identified. In the days that followed, the UK and Norwegian sections of the North Sea were inspected before the aircraft returned to Schiphol, on the evening of Thursday, 2 May 2024. 

The 4 Rijkswaterstaat specialists on board are what we call 'Aerial Officers', special investigating officers trained for this purpose. The crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, sensor operator (for use, deployment and interpretation of the investigating equipment), mission commander and a technician for the day-to-day maintenance of the aircraft. 

The technician forms part of the crew because the process involves several overnight stays at foreign airports. The crew is accompanied by another 2 Aerial Officers in training.

I think this is really great; something interesting to do, too. We flew up to an altitude of 300 - 5000 feet (100 - 1500m). We sat at a console with big screens. We wore headphones and talked with microphones, otherwise we wouldn't be able to understand each other because of the noise.

Ben Frederiks, Aerial Observer for Rijkswaterstaat

European collaboration

The Tour d'Horizon is a rotating monitoring programme with no fixed schedule, which is carried out by one of the seven countries with a North Sea coastline. To monitor pollution with oil and other hazardous substances in the North Sea, The Netherlands works alongside Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. These arrangements form part of the Bonn Agreement.

Contaminants in the Dutch section of the North Sea

The Dutch section of the North Sea was also monitored from the air during the Tour d'Horizon. The second Coast Guard aircraft is ready and waiting at Schiphol to carry out day-to-day patrolling above the Dutch section of the North Sea. Identifying and clearing up pollutants at sea is one of Rijkswaterstaat's duties. 

It is not just the Coast Guard aircraft that is used for this: we also use knowledge from Rijkswaterstaat's sea-going vessels, while satellite pictures of the North Sea are taken and studied every day. Even outside the context of the Tour d'Horizon, the Dutch section of the North Sea is observed continuously from the air. 

The second Coast Guard aircraft is ready and waiting at Schiphol to carry out day-to-day patrolling above the Dutch section of the North Sea.