On 14 May 2018, The Oil and Gas Authority (Offshore Petroleum) (Retention of Information and Samples) Regulations 2018 (“the Retention Regulations”) came into force, creating obligations on relevant persons in the oil and gas industry to retain the types of petroleum related information and samples described in the regulations. In most cases the obligation to retain the information and samples lasts indefinitely unless and until they are provided to OGA in response to an OGA requirement to provide the information or samples under section 34 of the Energy Act 2016 (“the Act”).

OGA’s consultation

OGA’s consultation on the retention and disclosure of information and samples, which closed in August 2017, contained proposals for the Secretary of State for BEIS to make regulations under section 28 of the Energy Act 2016 relating to the retention of specified petroleum-related information or samples. The consultation sought views on OGA’s proposals for two sets of regulations: (1) regulations that would set out what information and samples the industry would be required to retain, how and for how long; and (2) regulations that will set out which information and samples OGA will be entitled to disclose publicly, and the time period after which disclosure can take place. OGA aims for these two regulations to meet the recommendations on transparency set out in the Wood Review published in February 2014, while minimising the burden on industry.

OGA published its response to the consultation on 24 April 2018. This discloses that OGA received thirty-four responses from various industry bodies. OGA’s response document, issued last month, summarises the feedback received in response to the consultation questions and describes OGA’s detailed views on the points raised. OGA’s response to the consultation can be found here.

The Retention Regulations

The Regulations, which apply to information and samples held from 14 May 2018 or which are acquired or created after that date, set out the types of petroleum related information and samples that relevant persons must retain. “Relevant persons” who must comply with the Retention Regulations are those to whom the Maximising Economic Recovery in the United Kingdom (“MER UK”) Strategy applies, as listed in section 9A(1) of the Petroleum Act 1998 i.e. licensees, operators (under licences and of infrastructure), persons planning and carrying out the commissioning of upstream infrastructure and the owners of offshore installations – although the categories of relevant persons that must comply differs between certain specific obligations under the Retention Regulations. For example, all relevant persons must retain certain geological and seismic data; while the obligation to retain information regarding petroleum pipelines applies only to owners and those planning and carrying out the commissioning of petroleum pipelines.

The Regulations apply to certain categories of petroleum-related information and petroleum-related samples, as defined in section 27(1) of the Act. Part 2 of the Retention Regulations specifies the particular petroleum-related information that must be retained; Part 3 of the Retention Regulations sets out the equivalent obligations with regard to petroleum-related samples. In both cases, the focus is on preserving detailed technical information regarding the sub-surface geology, the structure of any reservoir and the chemical composition, location and potential behaviour of any petroleum. The information to be retained also extends to a requirement to retain a very broad range of information regarding the locations, dimensions and activities (including construction, maintenance, operation and decommissioning) of upstream petroleum pipelines and infrastructure.

OGA’s stated intention, through the Regulations, is to make the retention process simpler and cheaper for industry bodies, and to help keep the cost burden involved at a minimum. Guidance has also been produced by the OGA, ‘Retention of Information and Samples Guidance’, with a view to assisting industry in understanding the Regulations and fulfilling the requirements involved.

What comes next?

Neither the Retention Regulations nor OGA’s Guidance address the reporting requirements of information and samples under section 34 of the Act. Further information on that, and associated regulations, are expected to follow from OGA at a later date.

The Retention Regulations also do not address the other aspect covered by OGA’s consultation, which related to issues regarding the timeframes for permitted disclosure of samples and information that must be retained or provided to OGA. Again, it is expected that these will follow in due course.

A copy of the guidance can be found here and the Regulations can be found here.