Exclusive Content
23 Mar 2017

Hacking the Oil Field for Profit

Honeypots and pen testers.

If these terms are unfamiliar, you’ll want to learn about them and how they can help to protect critical data in drilling, processing, and other operations. A recent discovery made as the result of a honeypot and pen testers illustrates the increasing complexity and sophistication of malware and its use in the oil field.

Highly complex malware attempting to capture oil field data was recently thwarted and illustrates the need for heightened vigilance. Source: Getty Images.

Vulnerabilities to malware are not only found in computers, software, or equipment, but also, and perhaps most importantly, in the people using the systems. In most cases, there is no malicious intent or even an awareness of the misstep that introduced an infection into a network or system. But intentional hacks by insiders or outsiders may have the explicit purpose of causing serious outcomes, ranging from a low-level running amok to the theft of sensitive, confidential data and disruption of safety and operations.

The University of Houston’s Department of Computer Science recently featured speaker Weston Hecker, a principal application security engineer/principal pen tester at NCR Corp. in Bismarck, North Dakota. He has spoken at Defcon and Blackhat 2016, among others conferences. In August, he presented “Hacking the Bakken: Attacks on Kelly and Topdrive Oil Rigs” at the Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Cyber Security Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

A honeypot contains data that appear to be a legitimate part of the network but are actually isolated and monitored. When attackers discover the data and attempt to access it, they are blocked. This is similar to the surveillance tactics used by police in sting operations.

A honeypot may also serve as a disposable mail service. Users pay for brief periods of service time (sometimes only minutes) to communicate with each other. The messages are permanently deleted, leaving no trace. The purpose is similar to that of a “burner” cell phone. Burners are prepaid devices but are used specifically for one purpose and then disposed. Because they can be bought with cash, and without a contract, they are untraceable. Prepay, use once, then dump the phone (and its associated phone number) when it is considered too risky to use, or burned.

A pen (penetration) tester evaluates the security of information technology infrastructure by safely trying to exploit vulnerabilities in operating systems, service and application flaws, improper configurations, or risky end-user behavior.

Read the full story here.

10 Mar 2017

New Underwater Safety Center Planned for Asia

Auxilium Offshore has signed a contract with an undisclosed client to design, construct, and install fit-for-purpose equipment for an underwater safety center in Asia. The center will be used to simulate diving activities and subsea emergency procedures.

Underwater safety center. Credit: Auxilium Offshore.

The project has an expected lead time of 18 months, and all equipment will be built and assembled in Europe and shipped to Asia for final installation and commissioning.

The equipment consists of a wet bell with a launch-and-recovery system, an adjustable diving stage, a hyperbaric chamber to accommodate 10 people, and all of the related water- and gas-management systems, including control and observation systems.

Project Manager Gijs Vroegh said that management and contractor integration are crucial to the project. “For this project, interface management is a major point of attention, he said. “With the involvement of a large variety of suppliers and subcontractors during the assembly and testing phase, it is vital that every component is delivered on time and according to specification. Furthermore, local logistical challenges and interfaces with the civil contractor on site, both in design and installation phases, require thorough preparation, meticulous progress monitoring, and excellent communication between all stakeholders.”

Auxilium Offshore Managing Director Fleur Loef said the contract represents an expansion for the company. “Whereas we traditionally focused on the North Sea region, this contract is an important stepping stone to build up a track record and further expand our activities in Asia and beyond,” she said. “We are convinced that Auxilium Offshore can bring added value in design and construction of marine assets and mission equipment. Moreover, this contract proves that the expertise we have built up in the offshore energy industry can also benefit other sectors such as the navy and maritime training institutions. We are pleased with this opportunity to contribute to the development of enhanced underwater training facilities in Asia and to promote cooperation amongst industries.”

Auxilium Offshore is an independent company that offers customized services in design, engineering, and construction of mission equipment for the offshore energy sector, international maritime forces, and public services.

Read about Auxilium Offshore here.

2 Mar 2017

West Virginia Scraps Noise Regulations for Compressor Stations

The turbine and reciprocating engines that work to pressurize natural gas for pipeline transport understandably make noise. What’s not understandable to many West Virginians is why the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) came to a decision to drop the noise regulations for compressor stations, many of which are moving gas from the Marcellus Shale.

The US interstate natural gas system pipeline network and mainline compressor stations. Source: Energy Information Administration, Office of Oil & Gas, Natural Gas Division, Natural Gas Transportation Information System.

The DEP removed wording from a streamlined permit for compressor stations and dehydration facilities, in part, as the result of a letter from the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association (WVONGA). The permit stated that such operations “shall not create a nuisance to the surrounding community by way of unreasonable noise and light during operations.” That condition (Section 3.2.8) was struck from the Class II General Permit G35-D, which was issued on 27 January.

Last December, DEP’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) provided notice to the public of a preliminary determination to issue G35-D for natural gas compressor or dehydration facilities. The 30-day public comment period ended on 23 January, the day the agency received a letter from WVOGA expressing its concerns about Section 3.2.8.

In her letter to DAQ, WVONGA Executive Director Anne Blankenship wrote, “Our members have cumulative investment of nearly ten billion dollars in West Virginia, account for 80% of the production and 90% of the permits, operate more than 20,000 miles of pipeline across the state and provide oil and natural gas to more than 300,000 West Virginia homes and businesses.” She added, “The West Virginia Air Pollution Control Act only gives the DAQ the authority to regulate air pollutants, and air pollutants are defined as ‘solids, liquids, or gases which, if discharged into the air, may result in statutory air pollution.’  … Even if it [the agency] could, the prohibition of a ‘nuisance’ and ‘unreasonable light and noise’ is too vague to enforce, as it gives the permittee no guidance as to what constitutes permitted behavior.”

The noise and light issue has been simmering for some time. About 5 months ago, the DEP defended the language against a legal challenge from WVONGA. The agency’s about-face came after a new governor’s administration took office, which raised eyebrows among the public, landowners, and environmental groups. Viewed in the light of the Trump administration’s calls for regulatory restructuring, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, advocates for the noise limits fear that this change may portend what lies ahead in deregulation across federal, state, and local jurisdictions.

Read the full story here.

21 Feb 2017

Public Comment Sought on UN Sustainable Development Goals Report

IPIECA, the United Nations Development Programme, and the International Finance Corporation have collaborated on the report “Mapping the Oil and Gas Industry to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas.” A draft of the report has been released in order to receive public comment, and the deadline to submit feedback is 31 March.

Source: United Nations Development Programme.

The report explores the links between the oil and gas industry and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The document seeks to facilitate a shared understanding of how the oil and gas industry can most effectively support the achievement of the SDGs. It maps the industry’s existing contributions and encourages companies to identify additional opportunities to help countries progress toward the goals.

The report also seeks to assist oil and gas companies and their stakeholders in developing a shared understanding of how the industry manages environmental and social challenges while maximizing economic benefits.

Review and comment on the report here.

Read about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals here.

14 Feb 2017

Unmanned Vehicles and Robotics Gain Momentum

A sea-surface unmanned vehicle is shown tethered to a submerged vehicle by an umbilical. Credit: SPE/IADC 178244; http://dx.doi.org/10.2118/178244-MS.

Applications of remote control related to well drilling would be excluded from the new section as these applications are already covered under the Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section.

At present, SPE has 14 technical sections. A technical section represents a grouping of global SPE members who share an interest in a specific topic.

Any new technical section has to meet the criteria set by the SPE (e.g., the mission of a new technical section supports and further the SPE mission). There must be enough interest from SPE members to establish a new section.

SPE members who are working in the area of unmanned vehicles and robotics, or would like to learn more about this emerging technology, can register their interest.

The initiative and efforts to investigate the possibility of forming a new section are led by Daniel De Clute-Melançon, Weatherford, and Ed Tovar, InTechSys.

Read the full column here.


2 Feb 2017

White Paper Examines Effect of Human Factors on Drilling Safety

The Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) recently released a white paper titled “Human Factors and Ergonomics in Offshore Drilling and Production: The Implications for Drilling Safety.” The paper presents a summary of the current literature on the status of the oil and gas industry with regard to the adoption and integration of human-factor methods, principles, and processes.

The paper says that, among academics and practitioners who have addressed human factors for the offshore oil and gas industry, the consensus is that the consideration and application of human factors principles and practices lags dangerously behind that in the military and in nuclear and other industries. Consequently, OESI conducted the literature review to examine the current state of human-factors considerations in offshore drilling.

The authors of the paper say they hope the review will help ensure that the OESI takes full advantage of all the existing best practices and helps drive, among member organizations, empirically based excellence in the pursuit of drilling safety. The authors also hope the paper helps identify gaps in the research or areas that deserve attention to improve the collective wisdom about safe drilling practices.

The OESI is a collaborative initiative between the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, partnering with Texas A&M University; The University of Texas; and University of Houston. The institute provides a forum for dialogue, shared learning, and cooperative research among academia, government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations in offshore-energy-related technologies and activities that ensure safe and environmentally responsible offshore operations.

Read the white paper here.

Read more about OESI here.

2 Feb 2017

How Do Process and Occupational Safety Differ?

As recent highly publicized incidents in the oil industry exacerbate concerns about its public image, the importance of process safety in operations remains as important as ever, said the SPE technical director of Production and Facilities.

At a presentation hosted by the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Study Group, Hisham Saadawi discussed the performance indicators for process safety, as well as the similarities and differences between process and occupational safety. Saadawi is a consultant at Ringstone Petroleum.

Saadawi described process safety as a series of barriers aimed at preventing the hazards that can destroy facilities. It emerged as an industrywide discipline following a number of major industrial incidents in the 1970s and 1980s, including a gas leak at the Union Carbide India pesticide plant in Bhopal in 1984 and the explosion of the Piper Alpha platform in 1988.

Today, the term is almost interchangeable with “asset integrity.” Adequate process safety requires that facilities are built in accordance with their intended designs and that they are operated and maintained in a way that meets all safety requirements. Process safety failures typically involve a loss of containment where hydrocarbons are released into the atmosphere, increasing the probability of fire, an explosion, and major asset damage.

These failures are different from what Saadawi termed occupational safety failures, which typically involve smaller hazards such as slips and falling objects. These failures occur at a higher frequency on-site than process safety failures, but the consequences (personal injury, minor equipment damage) are less severe. Saadawi said that successful management of occupational safety does not ensure effective management of process safety.

Read the full story here.

27 Jan 2017

PetroTalk: Sustainability Case Study—Driving Value Creation Through Innovation

SPE recorded several presentations from the 2016 International Conference on Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility held in Stavanger and is presenting them as PetroTalks. These insightful presentations were captured from experts within and beyond the oil and gas industry in order to bring the conversations to a larger audience.

Joseph Lima with Schlumberger talks about the development and advancement of horizontal drilling and stimulation, how these technological advances have decreased the effects of drilling on the environment, and the necessity of clear communication to those without a reservoir background. “It’s through the combination of innovation and technology that we’ve allowed ourselves to ultimately reduce our footprint and make it to where we can do more with less and have a lower impact,” he said.

27 Jan 2017

Speaker Boosts Morale of Fracturing Conference Attendees

Higher life expectancy, plentiful food, and soaring gross domestic product are among the benefits that much of the world’s population has enjoyed since widespread use of fossil fuels began more than a century ago. They are also the central pillars to Alex Epstein’s thesis of why fossil fuel production, and the engineering involved, equates to a moral obligation.

Alex Epstein

Epstein, founder of the for-profit think tank Center for Industrial Progress and author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, was the featured speaker of this years’ SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technical Conference and Exhibition, which kicked off 24 January in The Woodlands, Texas.

Addressing several hundred industry professionals, Epstein used the rise of the North American shale sector to highlight how, despite making possible the many advantages of living in the modern age, the wider oil and gas industry is losing the public relations battle.

“The shale energy industry could theoretically have made a very exciting case about how ‘We are going to get all this energy out of previously useless rocks,’ ” he said. “But the industry did basically none of that.”

As a consequence, opponents of hydraulic fracturing filled an outsized share of the information vacuum, exemplified by the controversial and popular film Gasland—a documentary that the industry has spent years trying to counter.

Epstein said that the oil and gas industry’s challenge of gaining greater public favor has been made even more difficult by the emergence of renewable energy technologies, which he views as impractical apart from hydroelectric power generation. Among his problems with renewables is that they are generally cast as “good” while fossil fuels are framed by many as “evil.”

Read the full story here.

18 Jan 2017

Fatal Injuries in Oil and Gas Industry Dropped in 2015

In 2015, the oil and gas industry reported fewer work-related fatalities than in 2014, according to a report released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in December. The 2015 combined total for oil and gas extraction industries was the lowest since 2009.

A total of 4,836 fatal work injuries were recorded in the United States in 2015, a slight increase from the 4,821 fatal injuries reported in 2014, the BLS reported. The private mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction industry recorded fewer fatal injuries in 2015, declining 34% to 120 fatal injuries from 183 in 2014. Fatal work injuries in the combined oil and gas extraction industries (North American Industry Classification System) were 38% lower. The 2015 combined total for oil and gas extraction industries was the lowest since 2009.

The 2015 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) made the following key findings:

  • The annual total of 4,836 fatal workplace injuries in 2015 was the highest since 5,214 fatal injuries in 2008.
  • The overall rate of fatal work injury for workers in 2015, at 3.38 per 100,000 full-time-equivalent workers, was lower than the 2014 rate of 3.43.
  • Hispanic or Latino workers incurred 903 fatal injuries in 2015—the most since 937 fatalities in 2007.
  • Workers 65 years old and older incurred 650 fatal injuries, the second-largest number for the group since the national census began in 1992, but decreased from the 2014 figure of 684.
  • Roadway incident fatalities were up 9% from 2014 totals, accounting for more than one-quarter of the fatal occupational injuries in 2015.
  • Workplace suicides decreased 18% in 2015; homicides were up 2% from 2014 totals.
  • Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers recorded 745 fatal injuries, the most of any occupation.
  • The 937 fatal work injuries in the private construction industry in 2015 represented the highest total since 975 cases in 2008.
  • Fatal injuries in the private oil and gas extraction industries were 38% lower in 2015 than 2014.

17 Jan 2017

SPE/BSEE Data-Sharing Initiative Aims To Improve Risk Management

For the past 3 years, SPE and the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), along with other industry groups and US federal government agencies, have been working on the development of a voluntary industrywide safety data-sharing framework that could help companies better identify and mitigate potential high-consequence risks in their operations.

At a panel discussion held by the SPE Gulf Coast Section, representatives from SPE, BSEE, the Center for Offshore Safety (COS), and the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) discussed the progress being made in the framework’s development.

In 2014, BSEE approached SPE with the idea of creating the framework. The following year, SPE and BSEE co-chaired a summit that included representatives from service companies, operators, the BTS, the COS, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). At that summit, the participants decided to limit the scope of the data collection and reporting framework to the US Outer Continental Shelf.

In April 2016, SPE held another summit to discuss the development and implementation of an industrywide safety data-sharing framework. Among the goals of this summit were the establishment of a pathway to address the challenges involved with data management and the leveraging of these strategic processes to address potential opportunities.

Doug Morris, chief of the Office of Offshore Regulatory Programs at BSEE, said the bureau’s primary goal with this initiative is the creation of a singular database available to everyone in the industry, rather than several proprietary databases that may have incomplete safety data. He said a critical component of the social license to operate is a system that helps the industry progress with safety issues in a transparent and proactive manner.

“We are all reactive,” Morris said. “When a major event occurs, we issue new regulations, we put out new standards, and then we wait for the next major problem. We want to break that cycle. We want to be proactive, identify issues, and prevent accidents from occurring.”

4 Jan 2017

Work as Imagined vs. Work as Done: Presentation Highlights CSB’s Macondo Findings

On 20 April 2010, a multiple-fatality accident occurred at the Macondo oil well approximately 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people were killed, and 17 were seriously injured. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released its final investigation report from this incident in April 2016. Mary Beth Mulcahy, an investigator with the CSB, will present the results of the investigation at a meeting of the SPE Gulf Coast Section (GCS) Safety and Environmental Study Group on 10 January in Houston.



When conducting an investigation, the CSB builds on previously published investigation reports by analyzing evidence that, in some respects, became available only following their publication. An overview of the event and investigation report recommendations are available on the CSB website. This site also includes all four detailed reports. Given the global interest in this topic, SPE will also provide access to the event via webinar for any members interested in the topic but unable to attend in person. To register for the presentation or find more information about the webinar, visit the SPE GCS website.

Mulcahy’s presentation will provide highlights regarding the drilling contractor/operator relationship. The drilling contractor brings the infrastructure (drilling rig), supplies the majority of the workforce, and has more direct control over the primary operations (drilling) and emergency response (well control). The operator, though, is responsible for the well’s design and drilling program, which form the basis for establishing safe drilling operations, and should account for site-specific conditions that could increase the risk or complexity of the contractor’s various drilling and well control operations. As exemplified at Macondo, the operator and drilling contractor must actively work to bridge the gap between “work as imagined” in the drilling program and “work as done” by the well operations crew.

An excerpt from the executive summary of the report follows. The executive summary also provides a much more detailed listing of the key investigative findings and conclusions that highlights the complex, closely connected interplay of technical, human, organizational, and regulatory factors.

Recommendations Summary
In Volumes 1 and 2 of the CSB Macondo Investigation Report, the CSB issues two recommendations to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) within the US Department of Interior, recommending requirements for managing safety-critical elements and developing guidance to fulfill those new regulatory obligations.

The CSB also issues two recommendations to the American Petroleum Institute, recommending the publication of an offshore standard for the effective management of technical, operational, and organizational safety critical elements and revisions to API Standard-53 requirements for testing and monitoring of blowout prevention systems.

Volume 3 contains six recommendations. The CSB issues one to the American Petroleum Institute to revise API Recommended Practice 75 to expand Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) responsibilities beyond just the operator; include explicit and expanded responsibilities for human factors, corporate governance, workforce involvement, contractor oversight, and key performance indicators; and incorporate the principles of a risk reduction concept [e.g., as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)] and the hierarchy of controls.

Three recommendations to the US Department of Interior concern developing industry guidance on human factors and corporate governance and establishing a process safety culture improvement program.

The CSB issues one recommendation to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to update, strengthen, and finalize the SASB’s provisional Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Sustainability Accounting Standard to expand its reporting recommendations to include disclosure of additional leading and lagging indicators, safety goals based on annual statistical analysis of industry data, and emphasis on the preventive value of leading and process safety indicators and the active monitoring of barrier effectiveness.

Finally, the CSB issues one recommendation to the Ocean Energy Safety Institute to conduct further study on riser gas unloading scenarios and publicize those learnings to advance industry understanding of this well operations risk.

Volume 4 issues five recommendations to the Department of Interior. In brief, the CSB recommends revision and augmentation of existing offshore oil and gas safety regulations, including the SEMS Rule, to a more robust risk management regulatory framework that embodies key regulatory attributes found in other global offshore regions, including but not limited to systematic analysis and documentation by the responsible companies that risks have been reduced to ALARP and barriers are effective to manage major accident hazards.

The other four recommendations involve

  • Augmenting the capabilities and functioning of BSEE to empower it with the explicit regulatory authority to proactively assess industry safety management programs and practices before major accidents occur through preventive inspections, audits, and review and acceptance of regulatory-required safety management documentation
  • Expanding BSEE staff to increase collective experience, diversity, and competencies in technical and safety-critical fields of study, including human and organizational factors and process safety
  • Improving the offshore safety regulatory reporting program to focus on leading process safety indicators and barrier performance metrics that drive continual safety improvements of industry through specific indicator data trending, goal-setting, and transparency
  • Strengthening regulatory requirements to improve worker engagement in major accident safety management, including but not limited to workforce-elected safety representatives and committees; authority and opportunity to interact with management and the regulator on safety concerns through proactive mechanisms; tripartite collaboration between workforce, industry, and regulator; and worker protections to encourage all such activities

Download the complete executive summary here (PDF).