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7 May 2015

Five-Phase Model Aims To Maintain Psychological Well-Being While Away From Home

Oil and gas industry workers are often tasked with spending extended durations away from home while working onsite. And these absences can have a significant effect on the workers’ psychological well-being. A paper presented at the 2015 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas proposed a five-phase model for managing the psychological stress of extended stays away from home.

Paper SPE 173559, by Simon Seaton and Thomas Jelley of Sodexo, breaks the experience of being away into five phases: predeparture planning, being away, preparing to return, returning, and being back. The authors of the paper had three environments in mind when considering time away from home—the military, universities, and the oil and gas industry.

“We understand, quite well I think, somebody’s physical well-being. We’d like to think of psychological well-being in the same way,” Seaton said. “What we’re trying to do is make the psychological well-being a lot more stable, a lot more managed, a lot more predictable, and try and avoid bad days and bad outcomes … and, therefore, have a workforce that is much more engaged, motivated, and clearly focused on their job at hand, which is, at times, a very difficult and challenging job.”

Predeparture Planning
Modern communication technology makes keeping in touch while away easier, but there are also potential drawbacks. Expecting that technology will mitigate separation, travelers may fail to

  • Discuss expectations
  • Say goodbye properly and acknowledge that the coming separation is real
  • Set up support networks
  • Agree on a main point of contact so the person away is not under pressure to allocate potentially little free time or communication resources to a large number of people for similar updates

The first three points can apply as easily to a parent away on a short business trip as to someone away for much longer. The last point applies especially to individuals in more difficult, longer-term absence, such as military personnel on deployment.

Being Away
While away, technology offers only an artificial sense of connectedness. Seeing someone on a screen is not the same as being together. Daily experiences at different ends of a phone or video call may be so different that real-time connection is frustrating and counterproductive.

Also, sometimes less communication is better. News of something at home that an individual cannot manage remotely can immediately and gravely affect psychological well-being. The result can be distraction, disengagement, an inability to progress, and a threat to the performance of the organization.

Preparing To Return
The front-of-mind excitement associated with preparing to return home can mask the fact that it can have an adverse effect on psychological well-being. An individual or their perceptions may not be the same as when they left home. Family and friends may also have changed—even in a short period. Going home to continue as before may not be possible, and acknowledging this in advance is a way of managing expectations and the risk of disappointment.

A period of decompression or a staged return can facilitate a soft landing (e.g., soldiers returning home from a conflict zone via a peaceful base where they can wash, relax, and enjoy leisure time as a way of unwinding in a more normal environment before going home).

Being Back
Getting home can involve little more than a flight, but it can take much longer to feel back at home psychologically. To mitigate this potential disconnection between being back and feeling back, time for adjustment is important. After a longer period away, a welcome home celebration can have a better effect on psychological well-being if it takes place after the traveler has had time to feel back home again.

Future Research
The next step for the researchers is to analyze people in the three target environments—military, universities, and the oil and gas industry. The analyses will begin with researchers asking people how they assess their own psychological well-being and then asking them what they do to maintain that well-being while away from home.

“So, rather than present the model to them and ask them if they do it, we’re going to ask, ‘What are the things you do?’ We can then take those practices and inputs and apply them back to the model and refine it a little bit more,” Seaton said. That research is expected to be conducted by King’s College London and Cardiff University.

The full paper can be downloaded from the OnePetro online library here.

Read more about Sodexo here.

7 May 2015

Beyond the Headlines: Are Well Construction Practices Safe for the Environment?

Editor’s note: Professionals in the oil and gas industry often receive questions about how industry operations affect public health, the environment, and the communities in which they operate. Of particular concern today is the impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment. In this new column, JPT is inviting energy experts to put those questions and concerns about industry operations into perspective. Additional information about the oil and gas industry, how it affects society, and how to explain industry operations and practices to the general public is available on SPE’s Energy4me website at www.­energy4me.org.

There are headlines every day that discuss the ethics and safety behind oil and gas operations, particularly hydraulic fracturing. According to the media, hydraulic fracturing can cause earthquakes, contaminated water, and even deformity in animals (if you believe the movie Promise Land). The truth behind the headlines is that hydraulic fracturing is a safe way to get natural gas out of the ground. What makes it a safe practice is solid well construction.

The evolution of oil and gas well construction has passed through many frontiers with each new foray into the next “unconventional” hydrocarbon resource generating the needed technology to keep pace with the immediate needs. In light of more than 4 million wells drilled in North America over the past 194 years, it is somewhat surprising that the industry has been successful so many times, and what we have done with lessons learned from the relatively few failures.

Wells are designed from the bottom to the top and from the inside outward, but they are drilled and constructed in exactly the opposite manner—often by practitioners with metrics different from the initial design principles. The fundamental objective that must shape every action along the way is that the final product of well construction must be a highly durable pressure vessel, albeit one that is composed of hundreds of threaded connections with a variety of seals and with a long coat of cement. Few other engineering disciplines operate in this highly cloaked area, in which the final engineering product, the downhole section of the well, cannot be conventionally seen, heard, or touched and produces a product that no one really wants to smell or taste.

The birth of the US gas industry was ushered in by William Hart’s shale gas well in Fredonia, New York, in 1821. He encountered flowing gas at 28 ft and, consistent with the technology of the time, cased it with wood and flowed shale gas through wood and early steel pipes to light the streets and buildings previously illuminated with lamps filled with whale oil.

Both Hart and Edwin Drake, with his 1859-era oil well, made use of one of the earliest hydrocarbon prospecting tools by locating their wells in areas of natural gas and oil surface seepage. Both wells hit natural flows of hydrocarbons in the same depth range as freshwater wells; it is a small wonder that fresh water, gas, and oil cohabitate the same strata today. Present on every continent, in every ocean, and above virtually every oil and gas producing area, natural seeps of oil and gas are indications of overfilling of some conventional reservoirs or natural geologic structure interruptions such as faults and natural fractures. The appearance of oil and gas seeps is evidence of oil generation potential below.

The early oil industry was undeniably a highly polluted place in time. Although well construction moved forward to steel casing, artificial lift pumps, and the first steel pipeline for oil transport in 1879, the first use of cement to seal and reinforce a well’s steel pipe was not seen until 1903. This fledgling cementing technology took a significant jump in 1915 with Almond Perkins’ two plug cement system, which Earl P. Halliburton purchased and pushed into worldwide use. Although the first widespread use of cement was undoubtedly a significant pollution control step, it is difficult to say whether that accomplishment was its main intent.

As other forms of technology moved forward, related advances quickly followed. Rotary drilling made possible dynamic pressure control feasible and blowout preventer technology gave rise to kick control; a technology combination that gradually replaced the gushers that came after oil strikes by cable tool drilling. The advances in cementing, drilling muds, pumps, corrosion control, and various stimulation mechanisms in the 1920s to 1940s ensured that the protection of hydrocarbon resources and the environment were not mutually exclusive. Significant regulation and enforcement on all phases of well construction in the oil and gas industry varied for years in different regions of the country, particularly in the early boom areas drilled in 1859 to the 1890s.

The first unified approach to effective resource conservation rules and practical enforcement came in 1935 with the establishment of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, the oldest and largest interstate compact in the US that now represents governors of 30 member and eight associated states. The goal of the group is not only to conserve resources, but also to protect the public. Their survey work on idle and orphaned wells has been the driver for most of the well construction and abandonment rules that states have adapted to fit the needs of local geology.

Fig. 1—Pollution potential changes with time—US O&G Industry.

Fig. 1—Pollution potential changes with time—US O&G Industry.

The advances and some of the problems that drove the technology development are shown in Fig. 1.

The fact that disastrous failures have driven the development and evolution of every field of technology, from medicine to space trips, should not be forgotten, although much of the public seems blissfully unaware of the trial and error journey that all technical disciples have taken.

7 May 2015

HSE Conference Finds New Ways To Bring Experts Together

Helge Hove Haldorsen set the tone for SPE’s 2015 HSE conference in March at the meeting’s first keynote luncheon.

SPE President Helge Hove Haldorsen, center, talked with students from the University of Oklahoma after his keynote address at the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas.

SPE President Helge Hove Haldorsen, center, talked with students from the University of Oklahoma after his keynote address at the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas.

“I have an intense personal commitment to making E&P safe and sustainable,” the 2015 SPE president said.

Nearly 350 people gathered at the Omni Interlocken Resort outside of Denver for the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas. The conference carried the theme “Striving for HSE Excellence—It Takes All of Us.”

In his speech, Haldorsen pointed out that safety is a group effort. “We don’t compete on safety. We collaborate,” he said. “There’s lots of challenges. There are no easy buttons. But, I think, when we come together and talk about our various innovations and what we can do, sharing and collaborating … we’re going to come up with great things that take us to 2.0.”

After summing up the petroleum industry from exploration to selling the product to refineries, Haldorsen said, “E&P 2.0 means we do this smarter, faster, cheaper, more sustainable. This is the challenge for E&P. This is what we have to do.”

The conference, the 12th of its kind for SPE and the first to be held outside of Texas, celebrated several firsts and included new levels of engagement. It ended on 18 March with an interactive closing session. Before each plenary session and the closing session, attendees used remote voting devices to respond to questions about the content of the sessions. The responses drove the discussion at the closing session.

After determining the four most popular subjects—collaboration on safety throughout the industry, whether the price of oil will affect how HSE is considered, finding a middle ground for discussions, and sharing lessons learned—attendees gathered at tables dedicated to each subject. Chosen table leaders then presented the results of the discussions.

2015 SPE President Helge Hove Haldorsen addresses attendees at the first keynote luncheon of the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas.

2015 SPE President Helge Hove Haldorsen addresses attendees at the first keynote luncheon of the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas.

The closing session was moderated by Jack Hinton from Baker Hughes. “As I walked around, listening to the different tables, the intensity and the conviction, the importance, that I was hearing was absolutely incredible,” he said.

The interactive closing session was “in keeping with our belief that we had as a program committee,” Hinton said.

“We wanted to change the dynamic about the typical conference, where people just come and you sit and you listen.”

The conference also changed the typical conference dynamic by holding a Student Challenge competition, modeled after the PetroBowl held at SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, and a movie night (see page 142, SPE News).

The conference was punctuated with three plenary sessions, one for each day.

The first plenary session focused on the industry’s environmental footprint and consisted of three speakers: Jim Sewell with Shell E&P, Joseph Ryan with the University of Colorado Boulder, and Jon Goldstein with the Environmental Defense Fund.

A major point of discussion at the session was the effect of methane on the environment and the industry’s role in methane emissions.

Ryan showed a map that overlaid locations of high methane emissions with locations of coal formations. “A lot of the methane that has shown up in water wells … is really associated with these relatively shallow coal formations.”

Goldstein also addressed the problem of methane, noting that methane has a greater greenhouse-gas effect than carbon dioxide in the early years after release.

“You can think of methane as the other white meat. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas you hear about, but methane is No. 2 in many ways. … It’s a far more potent greenhouse gas pound for pound in the early years. Methane is more than 80 times more potent in the first 20 years.”

The second plenary session focused on safety and the goal of making it personal. The speakers were Warren Hubler with Helmerich and Payne International Drilling, Cheryl Mackenzie with the US Chemical Safety Board, and Mike West with BP America.

Hubler shined light on the personal aspect of safety with an emotional story of a boy who lost his father to an oil rig accident. After the funeral, the boy approached Hubler and asked why his father died. “How do we answer that question to a little boy, an 8-year-old boy, who has just lost his coach, his mentor, his tutor, his hero in life? Ladies and gentlemen, there is no adequate answer to that question, and there never will be. That needs to be a source of motivation for every one of us in this room.”

The final plenary session concerned unconventional resources. Four speakers—Dave Neslin with Davis Graham and Stubbs, Michael Freeman with Earthjustice, Patty Limerick from the University of Colorado Boulder, and Perry Pearce with ConocoPhillips—each offered their perspectives. The perspectives were those of a regulator, a conservation group, a shuttle diplomat, and an operator, respectively. The speakers all touched on the public’s perception of the work done by the industry.

“We should be educating people about energy,” Freeman said. “Where does our energy come from? What are the choices? What are the issues? I think we would all agree it would only be a good thing if people knew more about those subjects.”

Limerick summed up the essence of the discussion by reciting, of course, a limerick poem she wrote:

“Knowledge is tragically lacking
On the complicated process of fracking.
Convinced they are right,
People rush in to fight.
And no agency regulates yakking.”

The SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas is held every 2 years. The 2015 conference was held 16–18 March. The next one will be in 2017.

5 May 2015

Call for Papers Goes Out for International HSE Conference

Papers are being accepted for the 2016 SPE International Conference and Exhibition on Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility, which will be 11–13 April in Stavanger, Norway. The theme of the conference is “Sustaining Our Future Through Innovation and Collaboration.”

StavangerThe deadline for submitting an abstract is 29 June.

The conference is the oil and gas industry’s premier global event highlighting best practices and challenges. In 2016, this biennial conference will celebrate 25 years of bringing together experts from all over the world to share new ideas, process improvements, technological advancements, and innovative applications to enhance HSE performance. It also provides a neutral forum where a wide range of perspectives and concerns from a variety of stakeholders can be explored. Since its inception in the Netherlands in 1991, this conference has been held in 11 countries, a testimony to its global scope and application.

This year’s conference will focus on the need for collaboration and—in light of the current global climate—the imperative to maximize HSE programs and help achieve the needs of shareholders and stakeholders alike.

More than 1,200 professionals are expected to attend the 2016 event. Alongside the conference, an exhibition will showcase the latest technologies, products, and industry services from around the world.

Papers are sought in the following categories:

  • Health in Communities and the Working Environment
  • Occupational and Process Safety
  • Sustainability
  • HSE Management
  • Environment
  • Social Responsibility
  • Conference Topics

Authors are encouraged to develop papers featuring multidiscliplinary approaches that highlight HSE benefits such as innovation, collaboration, and value creation. Additionally, authors may consider proposing a paper that features these HSE benefits within specific elements of the oil and gas sector value chain.

The conference also features a special drilling track, so authors are asked to indicate if their abstracts relate specifically to drilling.

Read more about the conference here.

Submit an abstract here.

29 Apr 2015

UK Oil and Gas Industry Safety Awards Winners Announced

The fifth UK Oil and Gas Industry Safety Awards celebrated people and companies striving to ensure North Sea oil and gas operations are as safe as they can be at a ceremony on 29 April in Aberdeen.

The awards, jointly organized by Oil and Gas UK and Step Change in Safety, consisted of six categories: Safety Leadership, Safety Representative of the Year, Innovation in Safety, Workforce Engagement, Occupational Health and Hygiene, and Sharing and Learning.

Robert Paterson, health and safety director at Oil and Gas UK, said, “We were really impressed with the level and standard of entries to our awards. The innovative approaches being taken by winners to ensure high standards of safety, as well as the measures under way to further raise awareness to the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, really are to be applauded.”

Oil and Gas UK is a representative organization for the UK offshore oil and gas industry. Its more than 500 members are companies licensed by the government to explore for and produce oil and gas in UK waters and those in the industry’s supply chain. Step Change in Safety, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to make the UK the safest oil province in the world, has 137 members representing operators, contractors, trade unions, regulators, and the onshore and offshore workforce.

The winners of the 2015 awards are

Safety Leadership—Vic Retalic, HSE and security manager, Premier Oil

Judges recognized Retalic’s creative approach to communicating health and safety, which included drawing on the expertise of other industries to look at concerns from a different perspective and using a cartoonist to capture meeting minutes as a 12-ft-long picture.

Safety Representative of the Year—Karen McCombie, offshore support planner and helicopter administrative assistant, Sodexo

The judges said McCombie has worked tirelessly to promote safety awareness on the Claymore platform, to increase participation at quarterly meetings, and to encourage Sodexo management to put safety at the top of the boardroom agenda.

Innovation in Safety—BG Group and Amec Foster Wheeler

BG Group and Amec Foster Wheeler have jointly delivered an industry first by developing a new technique for removing caissons, the pillars underpinning many North Sea platforms. The process holds promise for the future; BG Group plans to use this technology for the removal of similar caissons on other North Sea assets.

Workforce Engagement—The Bruce Platform Team, BP

BP’s Bruce Offshore Platform Team transformed its safety performance through an ambitious improvement program involving a new approach to communication and a focus on a new, consistent process.

Occupational Health and Hygiene—Lesley Officer, human resources manager, Rowan Drilling UK

Officer was involved in Rowan Drilling UK’s Wellness program to encourage a healthy body mass index and an active lifestyle. The total weight of participants has fallen consistently since, and Rowan’s offshore fleet became the first in the UK sector to be presented with NHS Scotland’s Healthy Living Award.

Sharing and Learning—Neil Clark, chief executive officer, IHF

Human factors are thought to account for 80% of all accidents offshore, and Clark’s commitment to raising awareness of them as a pivotal ingredient toward changing safety culture on and offshore impressed the judges. Clark has played a key role in Step Change in Safety’s steering group on competence and human factors.

24 Apr 2015

Accounting for HSSE in an Enterprise Resource Planning System

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software systems help organizations manage data from product planning to shipping. By automating primary business-related processes, the systems allow companies to define their business models and plan workloads.

However, most companies do not include processes related to health, safety, security, and environmental (HSSE) concerns within the scope of their ERP systems, and failing to account for HSSE may be a costly mistake, an expert said.

Jeff Morgheim, a former climate change director at BP, said the early inclusion of HSSE practices in ERP systems is a good business practice because it sets a societal expectation that leads to improved decision making.

He spoke at a webinar, “What About HSSE? Why Early Inclusion of HSSE Into Enterprise Resource Planning Efforts Makes Sense,” held by the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s Health, Safety, and Environment study group. Morgheim, who was part of BP’s executive team in the aftermath of the Macondo incident in 2010, is the founder of Edge Consulting.

HSSE plays an important part in the operational excellence of an organization, Morgheim said. However, financial issues may make it difficult for a company to execute primary HSSE functions.

“When an enterprise decides that it needs to implement something that allows all this information to flow together, the usual motivator has to do with getting a better handle on their accounting systems,” Morgheim said. “So, what you’ll find is that the executive sponsor within an enterprise will tend to be someone from within the finance function. That has an impact on the scope (of ERP implementation).”

The following factors drive the inclusion of strong HSSE policies in an ERP system:

  • Seizing the opportunity for near-term process improvements
  • Avoiding rework
  • Fostering a collaboration between functions
  • Leveraging the risk reduction potential of an ERP system
  • Enhancing workforce sustainability
  • Signaling the role of HSSE to the organization

Morgheim said near-term process improvements provide organizations with a framework for identifying the processes for simplification or elimination, and removing duplicity in data collection and reporting. An organization’s ability to use its HSSE policy in the investigative process in a consistent way with the rest of the ERP system is a powerful opportunity.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for your function to be able to sit down and look at how exactly our processes work,” he said. “Where do we get information from? Who do we get information to? How do we validate that information? What do we do with that information?”

Avoiding rework on ERP systems is critical to keeping their cost down. Morgheim said incorporating good HSSE practices into a plan early will always cost less in the long run than retrofitting a plan to incorporate those practices after an incident.

“As anyone who has done house remodeling knows, there is a lot less pain and suffering and mental anguish involved in designing all the rooms ahead of time rather than building two separate parts of the house and figuring out how you’re going to integrate them together,” he said.

In addition, fostering collaboration between functions (operations, drilling, accounting, human resources, and the supply chain) helps reduce workload and errors within an organization.

Leveraging an ERP’s risk reduction potential helps improve compliance, risk management, and operational assurance, which leads to long-term benefits in accounting and finance.

Enhancing the HSSE workforce’s sustainability helps lower turnover costs and risks. It expands the pool of potential HSSE employees and lowers the costs to bring in new people. By emphasizing the importance of the role of HSSE, an organization is making it part of the creation of a culture of operational excellence. Morgheim said companies should reinforce the belief that good HSSE practices lead to good business practices.

View the webinar here.

23 Apr 2015

Sustainable Development, Part 3—Local Content: Opportunity or Challenge?

Earlier this year, HSE Now initiated a series of articles (Part 1; Part 2) highlighting presentations from a panel of global experts at the 2014 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam, wherein the experts shared their perspectives on a topic of increasing strategic importance to the society’s global members: sustainable developimage002ment. Titled “People, Profit, Planet: Advancing Practices That Balance Economic Growth, Social Development, and Environment Today and in the Future,” the session was moderated by Johana Dunlop of Schlumberger, chairperson of the SPE Sustainability Task Force. Organized with the help ofMichael Frederik Ellekjaer, the panel included the following panelists: Alyson Warhurst of Maplecroft; Stephen Newton of Equitable Origin; Egbert Imomoh, 2013 SPE President; and Annette Stube of Maersk.

The first article featured remarks by Stube, group head of sustainability for Maersk, while the second shared remarks by Newton of SCE Petroleum. The next featured panelist is Egbert Imomoh, nonexecutive chairman and cofounder of Afren and 2013 SPE President. In his presentation— “Local Content: Opportunity or Challenge?”—Imomoh focused on the importance of an effective local content program, including the opportunities and challenges associated with this program.

 If we look at stakeholders and what they bring to the table:

  • Government brings resources, laws, security and fiscal terms
  • Community brings land, local customs, and people
  • Industry brings knowledge, capital, people, and equipment

In return, governments are interested in maximum economic growth, while communities are seeking employment and minimum impact on their environment. The industry wants to maximize value and protect sanctity of contracts, as well as access to local staff.

When you look at the phases in the journey of compliance with local content expectations, it can be summarized in three areas—anticipation, pressurization, and legislation.


Fig1Long before the law, operators and service companies recognized the changing sociopolitical landscape. With that recognition came the need to do something and be seen as doing something to address the capacity gap. Different initiatives were started (i.e., increased job opportunities, scholarships, internships, training, and certification programs) and Human Capital and Community Affairs departments were established to reach key stakeholders and address issues therefrom.


Efforts by oil and gas companies were not perceived by some as far-reaching enough as overall awareness increased and improved. This resulted in some instances of increased agitation as communities, pressure groups, and the business sector called for more inclusion, localization, and empowerment. Companies resisted, arguing that the cost and risk made inclusion and localization a high price to pay; however, government responded by formulating policies requiring use of local human and material resources where available and competitive. The result was that subject-matter experts were created and encouraged to offer goods and services to the sector. Unfortunately, unrest increased as communities sought to control the natural resources in their domain, and governments came under increased pressure to act to maintain peace. This led to the government’s search for social tools.


Fig2In response to the search for tools, laws were enacted to serve as a catalyst for achieving the objectives of inclusion and domiciliation. The legislation included detailed guidelines and targets designed to change corporate behavior and attitude to localization. Also addressed in the legislation were implementation and enforcement provisions to ensure full compliance. As expected, the provision for  stiff penalties caught corporate attention, and corporations recognized that it was no longer “business as usual.” The compliance landscape continues to change even as oil and gas companies embark on this journey with varying degrees of success.


Local content has come to stay; however, there are several points of conflict that exist among stakeholders and that must be managed to make progress. Legislation is fraught with perceived unrealistic targets, which, in turn, promote opposition by industry. Also, a lack of agreement on metrics for measuring performance and attainment of goals remains a challenge. The anticipated impact is slower than expected because of several factors:

  • Lack of industrial base
  • Dearth of infrastructure that drives up the cost of development and compliance
  • Quality issues (human and material) and commitment to continuous improvement
  • Funding required to achieve compliance (i.e., incremental price to be paid)


Despite all the challenges, many international service companies have formed alliances with local companies. Banks are more ready to grant loans because they understand the risks and opportunities better, which leads international oil companies to accept paying a premium to accommodate local companies. Also, within Nigeria, many indigenous companies have emerged and render services both within and outside. So, like so many other challenges faced by industry, progress is being made toward achieving the long-term objectives surrounding local content, but there is always room for improvement.


Questions or feedback on this perspective may be provided directly to Egbert Imomoh.

23 Apr 2015

USGS Works To Incorporate Induced Seismicity Into Hazard Model

Significant strides in science have been made to better understand potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes, which are earthquakes triggered by man-made practices.

Earthquake activity has sharply increased since 2009 in the central and eastern United States. The increase has been linked to industrial operations that dispose of wastewater by injecting it into deep wells.

Cumulative number of earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or larger in the central and eastern United States, 1973–2014. The rate of earthquakes began to increase starting around 2009 and accelerated in 2013–14.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on 23 April that outlines a preliminary set of models to forecast how hazardous ground shaking could be in the areas where sharp increases in seismicity have been recorded. The models ultimately aim to calculate how often earthquakes are expected to occur in the next year and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. This report looked at the central and eastern United States; future research will incorporate data from the western states as well.

This report also identifies issues that must be resolved to develop a final hazard model, which is scheduled for release at the end of the year after the preliminary models are further examined. These preliminary models should be considered experimental in nature and should not be used for decision-making.

USGS scientists identified 17 areas within eight states with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today. This is the first comprehensive assessment of the hazard levels associated with induced earthquakes in these areas. A detailed list of these areas is provided in the accompanying map, including the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Scientists developed the models by analyzing earthquakes in these zones and considering their rates, locations, maximum magnitude, and ground motions.

Research has identified 17 areas in the central and eastern United States with increased rates of induced seismicity. Since 2000, several of these areas have experienced high levels of seismicity, with substantial increases since 2009 that continue today.

“This new report describes for the first time how injection-induced earthquakes can be incorporated into US seismic hazard maps,” said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Modeling Project. “These earthquakes are occurring at a higher rate than ever before and pose a much greater risk to people living nearby. The USGS is developing methods that overcome the challenges in assessing seismic hazards in these regions in order to support decisions that help keep communities safe from ground shaking.”

In 2014, the USGS released updated National Seismic Hazard Maps, which describe hazard levels for natural earthquakes. Those maps are used in building codes, insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and other applications. The maps forecast the likelihood of earthquake shaking within a 50-year period, which is the average lifetime of a building. However, these new induced seismicity products display intensity of potential ground shaking from induced earthquakes in a one-year period. This shorter timeframe is appropriate because the induced activity can vary rapidly with time and is subject to commercial and policy decisions that could change at any point.

These new methods and products result in part from a workshop hosted by the USGS and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. The workshop, described in the new report, brought together a broad group of experts from government, industry, and academic communities to discuss the hazards from induced earthquakes.

Wastewater that is salty or polluted by chemicals needs to be disposed of in a manner that prevents contaminating freshwater sources. Large volumes of wastewater can result from a variety of processes, such as a byproduct from energy production. Wastewater injection increases the underground pore pressure, which may lubricate nearby faults thereby making earthquakes more likely to occur. Although the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, most wastewater disposal wells do not produce felt earthquakes.

Many questions have been raised about whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for the recent increase of earthquakes. The USGS studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only occasionally the direct cause of felt earthquakes.

20 Apr 2015

Industry Can Do More To Raise Awareness of Operational Safety

Operational safety in offshore activities is a paramount concern to the oil and gas industry. No one wants to be killed or cause harm to fellow workers, employees, or the general public. Our awareness of when and how to act on that concern has changed over the years. We have made huge strides to improve the safety and environmental aspects in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of drilling and producing systems.

However, we can still do better on this front. The evolution of safety awareness in our industry is generally driven by the occurrence of major accidents, the threat of new regulations, and our response to those threats to assure that the regulations are practical and efficient. Based on my experience, I think further industrywide changes in attitude are necessary for a true safety culture.

I joined the industry in 1964, before a well operated by Pan American Petroleum (Unocal) blew out in the US Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and engulfed the CP Baker barge in a fire (June 1964) that put offshore safety and potential pollution on the public radar. The vessel was a catamaranlike drilling barge, and the force of the blowout caused an eruption in the water between the hulls. Many of the crewmen jumped to safety into the sea, but 22 died.

Back then, we accepted that this was a hazardous business in which accidents would happen, and we took for granted that people would get hurt, and even killed, as we went about our business. We took a kind of perverse pride in that fact. We were doing things that had never been done before and providing much needed energy in the world.

Besides, real men—and we were all men in those days—did not show fear. Who needed walkways, handrails, or safety lines? The loss of a finger or two was the mark of a driller who had the necessary field experience in “throwing a chain” to make up pipe.

We have come a long way from the days of missing fingers. Our industry recognizes the importance of appropriate standards for equipment, system design, and paying attention to personnel safety. We understand the need to manage safety using the same principles of planning, organizing, implementing, and evaluating that we use for managing other activities. Efforts are being made to incorporate the science of human factors and a culture of safety into our operations.

Those efforts have borne some fruit. From 1991 to 2009, there was an average of 6.5 deaths per year in the GOM. In the 3 years after the Macondo blowout (April 2010) from 2011 to 2013, there was an average of 3.3 deaths per year. It is too early to tell if these numbers mean that we have learned lessons and things are better, or if there has been no significant change in safety. I think we are safer, but there are things I worry about.

16 Apr 2015

Sustainable Development: Unlocking Growth, Part 2

Earlier this year, HSE Now posted the first in a series of articles highlighting presentations from a panel of global experts at the 2014 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam, wherein the experts shared their perspectives on a topic of increasing strategic importance to the society’s global members: sustainable development. Titled “People, Profit, Planet: Advancing Practices That Balance Economic Growth, Social Development, and Environment Today and in the Future,” the session was moderated by Johana Dunlop of Schlumberger, chairperson of the SPE Sustainability Task Force. Organized with the help of Michael Frederik Ellekjaer, the panel consisted of Alyson Warhurst of Maplecroft; Stephen Newton of Equitable Origin; Egbert Imomoh, 2013 SPE President; and Annette Stube of Maersk.

image002The first article featured remarks by Stube, group head of sustainability for Maersk. Part 2 comes from Stephen Newton, who was chief executive officer of Equitable Origin at the time. He has been a member of SPE since 1974 and, in addition to his current role on the Board of Equitable Origin, is the managing director of Southern Cross Energy. He is actively engaged in promoting oil and gas prospects in Latin America. Previously, Newton held senior roles in several companies, including in global responsibility for business development; engineering; technical services; health, environment, and safety; and community affairs at Occidental Petroleum. In this role and in running a number of operations subsequently in geographically diverse locations, Newton has continually recognized the ever-increasing need to engage communities with the same enthusiasm that we have applied in addressing technical issues in increasingly challenging environments.

In his presentation, entitled “Understanding the Value From Engaging Your Stakeholders,” Newton focused on the importance of integrating societal factors into operations decision making, including the value proposition, the why, and the how.

  • Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Promote global partnerships for development

Sustainability 2-Side 3The following are some key points to leave you with on this topic:

  • Good ideas do sometimes fail, so it is imperative that a climate of trust exist to prevent recriminations.
  • There is much we can do by leveraging our presence and infrastructure; however, we must actively engage the local communities and enlist the support of government, NGOs, and other entities that have been set up to support sustainable development activities in areas where we operate.
  • It is imperative that we address the above-ground risk in addition to doing all the right technical things.
  • As community involvement has increased, it is essential that the selection process for management include an assessment of the candidate’s ability to understand and manage all the risk factors.
  • While still critical to the success of a project, it is no longer sufficient to be just technically qualified; it is equally important to ably manage the soft side where perhaps the greatest risks lie.
  • Companies that, through their local operations, demonstrate the ability to operate successfully and are willing to subject themselves to third-party independent verification of those operations are far more likely to earn the trust of critical stakeholders and become partners of choice for investors, governments, and communities.



8 Apr 2015

SPE Publishes Technical Report on Worst-Case Discharges

In March, the SPE Board of Directors approved the publication of a technical report on calculation of worst-case discharges (WCDs). The report documents the consensus from an SPE-sponsored summit held in March 2014. At the summit, 68 subject-matter experts met in New Orleans with the goal of improving the methods of calculating and reporting WCD scenarios. The attendees—representing operators, regulators, academia, and service providers—developed the report, which was made available for comments for 30 days and edited to include comments before being approved by SPE’s Board of Directors.

Oil skimming vessels work around the clock at the site of the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil skimming vessels work around the clock at the site of the Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The focus of the technical report is on the calculation of WCD rather than well design or intervention. Its primary application is in the Gulf of Mexico, although the report may be considered for wells elsewhere.

Deterministic methods are proposed because of the wording of regulations and requirements for detailed well design and response planning, but parametric sensitivity analysis is recommended. All reservoir properties, the report says, should be best-estimate success-case values based on sound geology, geophysics, and engineering judgment.

Topics covered in the technical report include reservoir properties, inflow modeling, outflow modeling, total volume, special cases, and reporting. Future improvements could include flow correlations for high rates in large-diameter pipes, sonic velocity effects, and probabilistic methods.

The summit focused on defining methods for determining reasonable reservoir properties and fluid analog data to be used as modeling inputs for both shallow-water and deepwater wells. Discussions included the interaction of water sands and gas sands interspersed with oil sands, multiple sands in the same wellbore in various states of depletion, and the effects of secondary gas caps and water encroachment on calculated WCD values.

According to the report, the flowing scenario should be modeled over the duration of the spill to determine when the highest, single-day flow rate from the well occurs, which may or may not be the first day. In multiwell situations, the report says, it is important to remember that the WCD well may or may not be the first well drilled on the block or in the field. Each potential well location must be assessed and the WCD determined by the planned well that has the highest WCD flow rate.

The summit’s organizing committee consisted of 9 members from major international oil companies, 11 members from independent oil companies, three members from universities, two members from national oil companies, and two members from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The summit provided a sound technical venue to explore a variety of challenging issues and opportunities that face operators in the Gulf of Mexico. It also allowed for discussion and technical exchange on scenarios that could be encountered while drilling offshore wells.

Definition of WCD
BOEM defines WCD as: “The single highest daily flow rate of liquid hydrocarbon during an uncontrolled wellbore flow event”—that is, the average daily flow rate on the day that the highest rate occurs under worst-case conditions (i.e., a blowout). It is neither the total volume spilled over the duration of the event, nor the maximum possible flow rate that would result from high-side reservoir parameters, nor a distribution of outcomes. It is a single value for the expected flow rate calculated under worst-case wellbore conditions using known (expected) reservoir properties.

Download the technical report here.

23 Mar 2015

Pressure To Reduce Methane Emissions Highlights the Need for Better Monitoring

The US government is working on regulations to reduce oil industry methane emissions by more than 40% over the next 10 years.

A floating emissions collection device is systemically moved around a produced-water pond in Utah by researchers from Utah State University measuring emissions rising from the water. Photo courtesy of Howard Shorthill, Utah State.

Meanwhile, it is making a large investment in research seeking reliable ways to measure how much of the methane in the atmosphere is from natural gas production vs. other sources of the gas that can lead to global warming and smog.

“We can tell how dirty the air is. What is really tricky is ‘where it is coming from.’ ” said Susan Stuver, a senior research scientist at the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, who was among the first people to begin gathering emissions data in unconventional gas plays.

There are a growing number of estimates published, and they vary wildly, with studies estimating natural gas losses ranging from 1% to 7% of US production, according to a summary in a US Department of Energy research grant.

The methods, the math, and the politics of methane measurement are complex and changing. What once was an economic question facing the natural gas business—how to cut losses of a valuable product—has become a contentious environmental issue of how to reduce emissions of a gas that is able to warm the Earth far more than carbon dioxide?