Exclusive Content

Focus Sharpens on Chemical Risk Assessment

Published December 19, 2014

Chemical risk assessment is an evolving element in the health, safety, security, environment, and social responsibility sector of the exploration and production (E&P)  industry. On 24–25 February 2015, the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) will hold its first workshop on chemical risk. The workshop, to be held in San Antonio, Texas, will discuss chemical risk related to human health and the environment within the E&P industry.

Read more about the workshop here.
Register for the workshop here.

Kristin M. Koblis is the global manager of environment, health, and safety (EHS) strategic planning for Noble Energy. At an October meeting of the Society of Petroleum Engineer’s (SPE) Gulf Coast Section Health, Safety, and Environment Study Group, she presented her company’s screening process for chemical risk assessment.

Q: Why is the risk-screening process you outlined in your paper and presentation necessary?

A: Noble Energy is committed to protecting human health and the environment. Communities express their concerns of the chemicals the industry is utilizing and the potential for adverse health. Developing a risk assessment approach that factors in hazard and exposure was very important to us. In addition, there are potential regulatory changes to the Toxic Substance Control Act regarding chemical hazard, exposure, and risk. Noble Energy wants to be a leader in evaluating chemical risk.

Q: What are the objectives of the screening process?

A: The process will allow Noble Energy to identify chemicals where no additional concern is warranted and to also identify the chemicals where additional risk characterization and management may be needed. It is also specific to Noble Energy operations and identifies the field-specific exposure likelihood. We felt it was imperative to ensure that the process evaluates not only the potential human health and environmental hazards but also the potential for people or ecological receptors to be exposed to the chemicals in the products. Chemical risk is based on both the chemical’s inherent hazard to human or ecological receptors and the potential for such receptors to be exposed to the chemical throughout the life cycle of the chemical.

Q: How is the risk screening conducted?

A: The process was developed to be consistent with existing publically available approaches, including the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) methods for the Toxic Substances Control Act Work Plan Chemicals, which rely heavily on both the EPA’s Design for the Environment and the UN Globally Harmonized System (GHS). Each chemical in a product was assessed in terms of hazard, persistence, and bioaccumulation. The parameters for hazard followed GHS for human and environmental hazards. Human health and environmental hazard scores, as well as persistence and bioaccumulation scores (each ranging from 1 to 3), were calculated for each chemical in a product.

Then, each chemical in a product was scored (each ranging from 1 to 3) for relative risk. The key element of this step is the exposure assessment, which allowed an evaluation of risk by scoring the potential for exposure to the product using four factors. The four exposure factors included the amount of the product used, the number of locations where the product is used, the potential for human exposure, and the potential for exposure of ecological receptors to the product.

Separate, overall human health and overall environmental risk scores (each ranging from 1 to 3 for low, 4 to 6 for medium, and 7 to 9 for high) were calculated for each chemical, incorporating hazard, persistence and bioaccumulation, and exposure scores.

Q: What are the challenges to implementing the screening process?

A: One of the biggest challenges is obtaining sufficient data to conduct the scoring. Although we encountered confidential business information (CBI), it was not as frequent as discussed in the media. Noble Energy occasionally encountered CBI data. For some products, there will be both product level data and chemical level data for the constituents that are contained within the product. Where both product level and chemical level data are available, a strategy was developed to guide the selection of one or the other source of information to characterize the hazard of the product. Product-level testing data, when available, are typically limited to specific hazard-related endpoints. Although persistence and bioaccumulation data might also be available for a product, such data rarely, if ever, exist.

Efforts were made to find hazard data that would support scoring of all human and environmental parameters for a given chemical; however, in some cases, data were not available for all parameters. In these instances, it was assumed that the practice of adopting the highest human hazard score and highest environmental hazard score available for the parameters that could be scored was sufficiently conservative to characterize the hazard of the chemicals in a product.

For some of the chemicals, no hazard information was available or hazard information was available only to characterize human health or environmental hazard, but not both. Additional discussions with both service companies and chemical manufacturers is needed to obtain additional information.

Q: What is chemical stewardship and how does it fit in the scope of safety in the E&P industry?

A: Chemical stewardship ensures that EHS protection is an integral part of the chemical lifecycle. It is a continued commitment to assessing and mitigating chemical-related risks to both human health and the environment. The development and understanding of the risk scoring involves partnerships with the company’s drilling, operations, and supply chain departments. This ensures that all groups are integrating human health and environmental risk perspectives into chemical use.

Q: How does chemical stewardship apply to social responsibility in the E&P industry, and how will the screening process affect that?

A: Although there are no regulatory requirements for conducting the chemical risk scoring, Noble Energy wanted to ensure we are going beyond any regulatory compliance requirements. The process ensures that protection to both human health and the environment are factored into the chemical uses decisions, thus ensuring that Noble energy is conducting its operations in a responsible manner.

HSE Now Opens for Everyone

Published December 16, 2014

In a change from its original plan, HSE Now has opened up access to those who are not members of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). The change helps further SPE’s mission of disseminating technical knowledge.

Originally, stories on the site were available only to members of the society. A member login was required to read stories beyond the landing page. That requirement has been removed, and the site will remain open to the general public indefinitely.

“As we watched the success of HSE Now grow since its inception in 2013, SPE felt it would be a great mechanism to help pull together the global HSSE-SR practitioners beyond just our traditional upstream audience,” said Roland Moreau, HSE Now Editorial Advisory Board chairman and former technical director for health, safety, security, environment, and social responsibility (HSSE-SR) on the SPE Board of Directors.

“The objective of making HSE Now more broadly available,” he said, “is to encourage more networking and collaboration on topics that are equally important across all industry sectors and to leverage from each other’s experience and benefit from increased sharing of lessons learned to more effectively promote exploration, development, and production of oil and gas resources in a safe, secure, and environmentally protective manner.”

Now that HSE Now is available to all, be sure to share it with your colleagues who may not be members so they will see what SPE has to offer.

Visit SPE’s HSSE-SR discipline page here.

Become an SPE member here.

Registration Opens for 2015 SPE Americas HSE Conference

Published December 15, 2014

Registration has opened for the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas. The conference will be held 16–18 March in Denver.

Building on the success of SPE’s 2014 International Conference on Health, Safety, and the Environment, the 2015 conference carries the theme of “Striving for Excellence—It Takes All of Us.” The theme of the international conference, held in Long Beach, California, was “The Journey Continues.”

In an evolutionary step from past conferences, the 2015 conference will give attendees the ability to interact with the conference organizers and steer discussion toward pressing issues. “The 2015 SPE E&P HSSE Americas conference promises to be a dynamic event,” said Sue Staley, conference committee co-chairperson and vice president of safety, environment, and social performance for Shell.

“The use of interactive technology throughout the conference will allow discussions to focus on issues based on audience polling,” Staley said. “Engaging with various stakeholders has become a critical path in the industry, so we’ve designed the conference with that in mind. The technology will allow us to frame the real-time conversations and sessions around the most important issues based on participant input—bringing acute issues to the forefront.”

“We want people to come to the conference prepared to fully engage and make the most of the opportunities offered,” Staley said. “The interactive technology is new and offers an unprecedented ability to really get a lot out of the conference—because participants can direct conversations and topics based on their immediate needs. This isn’t a completed scripted event. We expect people to bring their concerns and issues for discussion.”

In a first for the conference, a Student Challenge is planned that will pit student teams against one another in a contest of knowledge about health, safety, and environment matters. The quiz-style contest, modeled off the PetroBowl contest held at SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition each year, will have eight teams. Each team will be made of five students from environmental or engineering departments of selected regional universities. Unlike PetroBowl, which is a single-elimination contest, the Student Challenge will be based on a point system, with the team having the most points at the end of the competition being the winner.

The winning team will become part of another first for the conference—a movie night. The Student Challenge winners will form a panel to help lead discussion after a presentation of a film about Pinedale, Wyoming, and the effects the oil and gas industry has had on the tiny town. “Energy’s Crossroads: Pinedale, WY,” one of the latest movies in the acclaimed Rational Middle Energy Series documentary series, tells the story of a small Wyoming town as shale gas development opens up a new world of opportunity and challenge. The series has won praise from energy companies, policy makers, and academics for its thoughtful discussion of the facts of modern energy development.

“In addition to the traditional technical paper presentations, we’ve added a movie night that will provide a unique perspective into a rational conversation about energy issues that can easily translate into project delays and additional—often unexpected—costs,” Staley said.

Jennifer Cross, a sociology professor at Colorado State University and invited speaker on sustainability, will open the movie night. She will share insights from her work on changing behaviors and ways that the industry can improve the effectiveness of communication. Her presentation and the movie screening will be followed by an interactive session with the student panel moderated by Cross.

The conference will also present a new method for delivering ePoster presentations—the World Café format. The World Café is a structured event where groups of three ePoster authors will each deliver a 10-minute presentation followed by a personal 15-minute discussion with the authors at assigned tables. Four ePoster World Café sessions will be offered during the conference, each supporting the conference’s theme of “Striving for HSE Excellence–It Takes All of Us.”

Studying the Sources of Methane Migration Into Groundwater

Published December 2, 2014

The rapid development of shale formations over the past decade has led the United States to become the world’s undisputed leader in natural gas production. This success, though, has come with increased scrutiny over the environmental impact of high-density drilling activities required to maintain unconventional gas production. One of the issues that industry and environmental experts are working to understand involves the risk of stray gas migration into groundwater sources, which a recent university study linked to cementing and casing failures.

New scientific data suggest that faulty well casing and poor cement jobs can lead to stray methane gas migrating into water wells located near producing natural gas wells. The science is young and more studies will be required before experts agree on how prevalent the problem is. Photo courtesy of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America.

In their paper, researchers from Ohio State University, Duke University, Stanford University, and several other academic institutions, said the industry can do more to prevent this type of problem, ensuring that future onshore development poses as little risk as possible to people who live near oil and natural gas fields. However, there is scientific debate on such findings and whether natural sources of methane found in water sources are far more common. The early research by various organizations hopes to provide answers to questions such as the best way to sample residential water wells, how to distinguish naturally occurring methane from stray production gas, and what can be done to prevent well failures that might contaminate water.

Beyond the Headlines: How Safe Is Our Drinking Water?

Published December 2, 2014

Do shale oil and gas drilling present a real threat to drinking water supplies? This is likely the single greatest concern in the minds of those opposed to the exploitation of this resource. Can oil and gas wells leak fluids into the Earth? Yes. Can it be prevented? Yes, again.

In this essay, we will discuss the mechanisms involved, the measures to prevent these occurrences, and the most recent scientific studies on the topic. On the last point, I am happy to report that, to date, the news is uniformly very good. Happy because this resource must be developed in a sustainable fashion. It has transformed the United States economy and improved the lot of every US citizen. We have a duty to get it done right. Other countries with similar resources need the US to succeed.

There are two potential sources for contaminating fluids. One is the hydraulically fractured zone in the reservoir and the other is the vertical portion of the wellbore. Microseismic monitoring involves “listening” to the minor tremors generated by the hydraulic fracturing operation. Thousands of such operations have been monitored and fractures do not extend more than 1,000 ft in a vertical direction. Leaving a margin of error, 2,000 ft of vertical separation ought to be sufficient. Most producing zones are at vertical depths greater than 4,000 ft, and fresh water rarely extends beyond a few hundred feet.

Aging Offshore Fields Demand New Thinking

Published December 2, 2014

When he started his firm focused on removing obsolete offshore structures, Brian Twomey chose the name: Reverse Engineering Services. The thinking was that taking out a structure is like building it, but in reverse.

Based on a career spent planning, managing, analyzing, and teaching classes on decommissioning, the managing director of Reverse Engineering has concluded: “It is the wrong name.”

“I started out thinking decommissioning is the reverse of installation; it is not,” Twomey said. “The first thing to know about decommissioning is there is a lot of uncertainty and unknowns that have developed over time due to wear and tear, changes, the environment, and loading all this other stuff” on the structure.

Those complications can lead to costly jobs and budget overruns when plugging wells and removing platforms. That adds to the pain of an obligation with no return on the investment.

“You are not really making money taking the platform out. You have made the money already,” said Jon Khachaturian, president and chief executive officer of Versabar. “We constantly hear: ‘We are going to take it out but we are going to do one more thing.’ ”

Stakeholder Issues Play Key Role in Shale Future

Published December 2, 2014

As the shale revolution changes the map of oil and natural gas development and shifts the balance of production between regions, public acceptance is an increasing challenge. The unconventional resource boom has brought intensive drilling and production operations to areas often unaccustomed to these activities and frequently more populous than traditional petroleum development areas.

A variety of public concerns have assumed a high profile, including the environmental issues of water use; perceived risk to groundwater aquifers; waste disposal; truck traffic, dust, and noise; and emissions.

While the success of production from shales and other tight-rock formations draws attention nationally and globally, its future depends much on the attention and reception it receives locally. As shale drilling has surged, public eyes may be more focused on the community impacts of oil and gas operations than ever before.

Report: New Details, Lessons Learned From Macondo

Published December 2, 2014

Introducing his analysis on the Macondo incident in the US Gulf of Mexico (GOM), Stan Christman quoted, “Complex systems almost always fail in complex ways.” The line came from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board’s report of the space shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003, but it could easily describe the explosion and resultant spill that devastated the GOM in 2010.

In a presentation hosted by the SPE Flow Assurance Technical Section, Christman, a member of the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), outlined the failures of barriers and tests, and the problems within the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer (BOP) system that led to the accident. The findings were the result of a 4-year investigation conducted by the CSB, which released its report in June. The federal independent agency had access to the full set of test data in real time, some of which were unavailable at the time of the publications of other reports on Macondo.

A Comparison of Methods for Boron Removal From Flowback and Produced Waters

Published December 2, 2014

While storage and logistics are critical elements of the viability of water reuse, if the water chemistry is not fit for gel fracturing formulations, it will not matter how much is stored in centrally located impoundments.

Millions of barrels of flowback, produced, and fresh water or brackish waters are available daily for any number of uses, but only a select few exploration and production companies have taken the necessary steps to implement a quality program that works effectively. In addition, the commitment to instituting such a program is far more simplistic than most producers believe it to be. What is required, however, is a desire to manage for the long term, not just for a period of drought or in a reactionary way because of government regulatory rhetoric.

New SPE Technical Section—Carbon Dioxide Capture, Utilization, and Storage

Published December 2, 2014

SPE has formed a technical section to give members the opportunity to focus on carbon dioxide capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), an area of interest for petroleum engineers worldwide. Industry interest in CCUS as a way to reduce emissions and for sequestering or storing carbon dioxide has increased over the past decade. In response, SPE has stepped up programming in this area.

CCUS involves capturing CO2 emissions from large point sources such as power plants and either reutilizing or storing the emissions to keep them from entering the atmosphere.

Expanded Career Opportunities for Petroleum Engineers

Possessing the know-how for evaluation, selection, and monitoring of underground storage sites garnered through decades of experience in the fields of CO2-enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and gas storage operations, the exploration and production segment of the oil and gas industry is anticipated to play a major role in the advancement of CCUS, including broader application of CO2-EOR.

Moreover, lessons learned in the ongoing commercial activities within the oil and gas disciplines of underground gas storage and CO2-EOR are directly transferrable to CCUS, thus expanding career opportunities for petroleum engineers.

Join the CCUS Technical Section
This SPE group seeks to bring these activities together in one place for those interested in this developing subject. Members will have opportunities to deepen their learning and share their insights through online discussions, Web events, virtual meetings, forums, and workshops and enjoy the benefits of at least one face-to-face meeting a year.

Learn more and join the technical session here.

Panelists Urge Industry To Take Sustainability Seriously

Published November 4, 2014

The oil and gas industry has to intensify its efforts in terms of sustainability and integrating sustainability factors into the industry’s daily operations, according to panelists at the Sustainability Task Force special session at SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam.

The session, titled People, Profit, Planet: Advancing Practices That Balance Economic Growth, Social Development, and Environmental Protection Today and in the Future, featured panelists who touted the importance of sustainability for the world and particularly for the oil and gas industry.

2014 SPE President Jeff Spath speaks at the Sustainability Task Force special session. Credit: Conference Photography.

Jeff Spath, 2014 SPE President, said in his presentation entitled Sustainability—Why SPE Has Begun Work in This Area, that the oil and gas industry has been thinking about and “doing” sustainability for nearly 20 years, since the Shell Brent Spar decommissioning event in 1995 when both social and environmental incidents gave the industry a sustainability wake up call, much like Piper Alpha gave oil and gas professionals a safety wake up call just more than 25 years ago.

But, unlike Piper Alpha, the decommissioning of the Brent Spar and the
execution of Ogoni activists in Nigeria in the same period did not lead to a commission being formed and regulations being drafted and enacted. Instead, activists outside the industry led campaigns to which industry at first responded through public-relations campaigns and then, increasingly, with efforts to understand the concerns and improve performance. “In other words, our industry did not initially take control of its own performance,” Spath said.

Twenty years after the incident, the industry is still struggling with how to define sustainability performance, who would define it, and how it could be measured in the absence of regulation.

“Over time, practices emerged, industry groups formed, sustainability disciplines matured, best practices emerged, and sustainability professionals joined the industry,” Spath said.

Moreover, the industry still has not “moved the needle,” or integrated sustainability factors into daily operations, processes, or business models. “We are still struggling with aboveground risk in a significant way,” he said.

But, in 2010, SPE decided this activity was not a passing fad and that it was time to start contributing more proactively. “We formed a strategic task force and began to analyze how we could best accelerate the integration of sustainability practices to the operations of our industry,” Spath said.

The SPE Task Force of more than 20 sustainability professionals homed in on a gap for which the SPE mission is a perfect fit—that of competency development. “We have the ambition to be the go-to place for sustainability training in our industry,” Spath said.

A competency program business plan has been approved by the SPE Board of Directors and will be piloted at the SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas in Denver next March. “The initial audience is sustainability professionals, but, by 2016, our ambition is to have an offering for nonpractitioners—operational decision makers like many of yourselves,” Spath said. “In the meantime, we are bringing you sustainability content and practitioners to our core SPE events—like ATCE today,” he added.

Alyson Warhurst, founder and CEO of Maplecroft, analyzed risk, opportunity, and sustainability in the global growth landscape and how to get them to flourish long term. Warhurst blamed governments for political instability because of an unequal distribution of wealth, which leads to social unrest and instability. “Countries where disparity between relatively high social gains with oppressive governance create potential for societally forced regime change and resource nationalism and depicts areas of business risk,” she said.

Economic growth is sustainable when it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. For business, sustainability refers to “an organization’s activities that demonstrate the inclusion of social, environmental, and corporate responsibility concerns in business operations and interactions with stakeholders,” she said.

Warhurst said that corruption and poor governance are sources of instability, highlighting the experience of several oil and gas producing countries where corruption hinders all efforts of investment.

“When government is corrupt, this means that they don’t invest back into the society,
which leads to instability,” she said.

Stephen Newton, chief executive officer of Equitable Origin, said in his presentation that the oil and gas industry has made incredible technical advancement where the biggest investor concern is the industry’s ability to manage aboveground risk. Newton said that problems at the beginning translate to issues over the life of a project.

“About two-thirds of projects worldwide are late and over budget,” Newton said. “Communities including indigenous people have increasing power by virtue of obligatory and extensive consultation processes,” he added.

For future success, Newton said that managing aboveground risks through transparent communication with all stakeholders, particularly local communities, is very important. “Being open to third-party certification as a way to independently verify best operating practices and gain the trust of all stakeholders is also critical for future success,” he said.

Egbert Imomoh, nonexecutive chairman and cofounder of Afren and 2013 SPE President, discussed the opportunities and challenges related to the local content. Imomoh said that the local content emerged because natural resources belonged to the state, where national government has no leverage or wherewithal to change the thrust of policy.

“Progressively, capital flight, slower than expected economic growth, increase in trained local manpower, and high unemployment made a case for change,” he said.

Speaking about stakeholders and what they bring, Imomoh said that government brings resources, laws, security and fiscal terms, while community brings land, local customs, and people. “The industry bring knowledge, capital, people, and equipment,” he said. “In return, government wants maximum economic growth, while community wants employment and minimum impact on their environment,” he said. “The industry wants maximizing value, and sanctity of contracts, as well as access to local staff,” Imomoh said.

Despite all the challenges, many international service companies have formed alliances with local companies.

“Banks are more ready to grant loans as they understand the risks and opportunities better, which leads IOCs (international oil companies) to accept paying a premium to accommodate local companies,” he said.

The Role of Sustainable Development Planning in Our Industry

Published October 15, 2014

Sustainability, nontechnical risk, environmental and social performance, as well as corporate (social) responsibility are interrelated terms that refer to an important set of competencies viewed as increasingly strategic in value for the oil and gas industry. Over the past 15 years, sustainability as a term has matured from its initial “green” scope to embrace social agendas and has evolved from being an external force to become a set of organizational values and operating principles that govern development and operations in the oil and gas sector. A plethora of standards, guidelines, and good and best practices have been created by various sectors with the oil and gas industry being one of the most active in evolving its own guidelines. Both corporate strategy and corporate risk management have identified opportunities and risks and built in new checkpoints in their processes.

Elements of a sustainability management system.

Consequently, securing and maintaining a license to operate (as well as growing the commercial value beyond this threshold) extends well beyond legislative and regulatory permitting to encompass both the mitigation of adverse social and environmental effects as well as the advancement of financial, societal, and environmental benefits by the execution of strong sustainability performance. Significant to this is the new organizational refinements on, not just the license to operate, but also new phrasing such as “social license to operate” and “permission to operate” with the accompanying strategic financial benefits of becoming a preferred developer or operator.

Given the increasing prominence of sustainability in the oil and gas industry, SPE embarked on a path in 2010 when it created a Sustainability Task Force to

  • Explore SPE’s role and strategy in addressing sustainability.
  • Explore SPE’s role in encouraging a methodical approach to sustainability for our industry.
  • Generate proposals for the SPE Board to direct resources to address identified needs and opportunities.
  • Fully participate in global sustainability discussions as an enthusiastic participant and contributor and not as a passive observer.