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Wireless Hydrogen Sulfide Sensor Uses Nanotechnology To Improve Safety In Oil and Gas Facilities

Published August 11, 2014

Real-time monitoring of pollutant, toxic, and flammable gases is important for health and safety during petroleum-extraction and -distribution operations. Currently, many methods exist for detecting such gases, but most sensors suffer from slow response times, high power consumption, high costs, or an inability to operate in harsh conditions. This paper demonstrates a small, low-cost, low-power, highly sensitive nanomaterial-based gas sensor specifically targeted for the detection of hydrogen sulfide.

Current personal monitors for hydrogen sulfide are typically electrochemical-based sensors because of their low power consumption, relatively small size, and satisfactory selectivity. However, electrochemical cells typically have fairly slow response times and are prone to degradation or errors at extreme temperatures and humidity. Semiconducting-metal-oxide (SMO) sensors have fast response times and simple interface electronics and can operate in harsh conditions, making them a mainstay of industrial monitoring. However, the power required to operate a conventional SMO sensor is typically hundreds of milliwatts. Therefore, operation of a handheld monitor using conventional SMO sensors is not feasible for long-term monitoring. To overcome this problem, the authors have fabricated very-low-power microheaters and functionalized them with tungsten oxide nanoparticles to create an hydrogen sulfide sensor suitable for long-term battery-powered operation.

Control-System Cybersecurity: Staying Ahead of Evolving Threats

Published August 8, 2014

The benefits of modern industrial control systems have never been greater. However, as these systems have evolved, the threats to their safe and secure operation have grown. While the return on investment for a complete control-system security audit may be difficult to calculate, the cost of not having a complete plan in place may, if a worst-case condition arises, be impossible to comprehend. A baseline system security image, as a start, allows a vessel owner or operator to understand the security risks.


A diver-support-vessel control system suddenly loses position control and begins to drift while the divers below are put in harm’s way. A programmable–logic controller on the vessel’s dynamic–positioning system had entered an error state and flooded the primary and backup control networks with erroneous data, knocking all connected systems offline. Before control is restored, the vessel is 200 m from its station and one diver has been left unconscious on the template bailout and the other is stranded in the diving bell. The unconscious diver is rescued by his companion from the diving bell once the vessel arrives back on station. Is this a scene from a movie? Unfortunately not; it was a recent, real-world failure. Just as unsettling is the fact that the root cause of the network jamming was never identified.

While viruses, Trojans, worms, and backdoors have been generally associated with Web servers, personal computers, and phones with access to the Internet, serious concerns about cyberphysical attacks on industrial control systems have also been raised—attacks that could result in conditions similar to the loss of positional control just described.

Offshore assets with complex operational capabilities, such as floating production, storage, and offloading vessels; drillships; and semisubmersibles, while not necessarily targets for national–security-based malicious attacks, are nevertheless high-value targets whose compromise may have high-consequence results. Control systems onboard the vessel demand real-time operation, interference with which may result in costly and even life-threatening situations.

Program Ranks Musculoskeletal Risk of Operating Valves in Process Industries

Published August 7, 2014

Every process plant presents a high number and diversity of valves that control the flow of feedstock, products, and service liquids and gases. A comprehensive program was developed for a major US refinery to assess the musculoskeletal risk associated with manually operated valves then to rank each valve according to the risk each poses to plant operators and maintenance technicians. Valve repair and replacement is expensive, so the cost-effective approach was to assess only those valves that are critical to plant operation.


Process plants contain a large number of process valves with a wide diversity of designs that control the flow of a wide range of fluids. The ergonomic issues associated with the design, operation, and maintenance of valves include

  • Physical stress to open and close them
  • Potential for injuries and subsequent related costs
  • Lack of access to process-critical valves
  • Difficulty of removing and replacing them
  • Potential for process upsets when valves cannot be operated in the time required

As a result of injuries suffered while operating valves, a major US petroleum-refinery company initiated a program to identify high-risk valves and to modify them to reduce the operating risk of injury.

Fig. 1—Systematic approach to working with valves in process operations.

A model, illustrated in Fig. 1, was developed to create a systematic approach to identify the valve issues in a process plant, analyze the issues, prioritize the valves that need attention, implement a solution, and measure the results. The approach can be modified to reflect the unique character of the plant that implements the program.

The objectives of the study were to

  • Develop a valve-risk-assessment program unique to the process plant based on the plant’s human-factors engineering-design standards and the valve-assessment model.
  • Assist site personnel in identifying the process-significant valves and surveying them to determine the top candidates for repair or replacement.

Process-significant valves were those that met the following definitions:

  • Frequently operated—valves that are operated more than four times per year
  • Operated in an emergency—emergency block valves, emergency isolation valves, battery-limit valves, depressuring valves, and dump valves
  • Manual, gear-operated valves
  • Large valves—valves with valve wheels ≥24 in. in diameter
  • Manual block valves and bypass valves around control valves

Latin American, Caribbean HSE Conference Opens Call for Papers

Published August 5, 2014

The SPE Latin American and Caribbean Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainability Conference, to be held 7–8 July 2015 in Bogotá, Colombia, serves as a unique environment for professionals involved in planning, implementing, monitoring, and maintaining the life cycle of oil and gas projects in the region, where extremely sensitive environments and social challenges exist.

Authors can share their experiences in health, safety, security, environment, and sustainability as it relates to oil and gas by submitting a paper proposal for consideration. Proposal can be submitted online until 4 November.

The conference will explore state-of-the-art technologies and their effects on sustainability (balancing economic growth, social development and, environmental protection). Outstanding challenges and experiences in health and safety for successful execution of oil and gas projects in increasingly demanding working environments will also be addressed.

If a proposal is accepted, the authors will have the opportunity to present the technological advances, share experience, and have the paper included in the conference proceedings and in the OnePetro intersociety online library.

Learn more about the conference here.

Submit a paper proposal here.

Presentation Follows Execution Phase of Major Capital Project With Eye Toward Safety Assurance

Published July 23, 2014

On 21 August, SPE will present the webinar “Major Capital Projects—Increasing Safety Assurance in Construction, Load Out, Transportation, Installation, Hookup, and Commissioning” for free, coinciding with a live presentation in Houston by Steve Frampton, construction and commissioning manager for Marathon Oil’s Global Projects Organization. The presentation, sponsored by SPE’s Gulf Coast Section, and Webinar begin at 1300 hours EDT and will last approximately 75 minutes.

The challenges and opportunities facing operators planning major capital projects in today’s oil and gas environment include turnkey contracting strategies, global supply chains, evolving technologies, increasingly stringent regulations, competition for scarce resources, and inflationary pressures, to name a few. These factors have the potential to affect personal and process safety performance, directly or indirectly, throughout the project’s lifecycle.

The implementation of a formal stage-gate project management system and decision quality process is critical to alleviating project risks; assuring operational excellence; and improving constructability, operability, and maintainability of the future asset. By way of example, this presentation will examine the execution-phase activities of an offshore major capital project, from design and engineering through to construction, installation, hookup and commissioning.

Frampton has worked for more than 30 years in international offshore developments and production operations. He joined Marathon Oil in 1981 and supported the design, engineering, construction, offshore hookup, and commissioning of the Brae North Sea platform complex, enabling an initial production rate of approximately 100,000 BOPD from each platform.

After the North Sea project, Frampton joined the design team in Houston for the Sakhalin 2 project (100,000 B/D) before relocating to South Korea for the construction and onshore commissioning phase. He eventually served as offshore installation manager on Sakhalin 2. Frampton’s next project involved the management of construction activities of the Marathon Equatorial Guinea Production onshore gas facility (950 MMSCFD/70,000 B/D) on Bioko Island in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. At the end of the construction phase, he stayed with the project, becoming operations superintendent. In 2006, Frampton relocated to Gabon as operations manager for Marathon’s Tchatamba offshore assets. In 2010, he joined the Marathon Norway Operations group for a short time before moving back to Houston. The last 4 years have seen Frampton work on new projects for Kurdistan and Equatorial Guinea. His current assignment is the new Alba Compression Platform (950 MMCFD), offshore Bioko Island, which will be field-commissioned in 2016.

Frampton holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) and completed an indentured apprenticeship with Rolls Royce Limited (Aero division) in the UK.

Find details and register for the in-person event here.

Register for the free Webinar here.

Ensuring Public Protection From Toxic Gas Releases

Published July 14, 2014

The expansion of the oil and gas industry comes with inevitable coexistence with communities. Several health concerns result from this proximity—for instance, contact with contaminated water or polluted air. One hazard, however, stands out: the potential release of toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide.

“Through the years, companies have been developing solutions for safer operations of oil and gas facilities that face toxic gas risks, often learning lessons the hard way. Organizations typically plan for any potential leaks and have measures in place to protect their site employees and contractors. With an increasing number of operations occurring in highly populated areas, there is now more focus on community protection measures,” said Elie Daher, executive vice president of United Safety.

What can companies do to ensure the safety of surrounding communities in the event of a toxic gas release?

The first point is ensuring operations are run as safely as possible, in order to avoid incidents. Safety personnel ensuring compliance with safety policies and adequate safety equipment should be on site. If toxic gas is present in drilling, production, or refining operations, companies should ensure all workers are oriented on site-specific hazards, emergency preparedness, and responsibilities and that people accessing critical zones have the proper training.

Nonetheless, even with precautionary measures in place, unplanned releases may still happen. In order to minimize external effects, companies need to work on community protection.
The first step is to determine the reach of a potential release. As toxic gases leak in the air, solar heating/radiative cooling determined by cloud coverage and latitude from the equator, wind speed and direction, surface roughness, terrain, and height from the ground are all factors that will affect where the plume will be headed and whether it will reach a populated area in a concentration that is harmful to the community. In addition, density of population in the area, access and egress routes, and source elements such as diameter, initial jet density, velocity, proximity, obstacles, and fallouts are important when estimating or predicting the dispersion of this toxic gas and its effect on a nearby community.

Map of emergency planning zone.

Map of emergency planning zone.

Several types of dispersion models exist, and many computer programs exist to create the models. Selection depends on input complexity and output requirement. The result of the dispersion study determines an emergency planning zone (EPZ), carefully delimited to ensure the safety of the public near the site.

Based on the specific characteristics of the EPZ, an EPZ monitoring plan and an emergency response plan (ERP) are crafted.

The execution of the EPZ monitoring plan requires incredible coordination to be effective. Checkpoints and road block locations need to be set up. It is a good measure to assign road block personnel to brief all people approaching with the correct information and status of the area and keep a log on transient people entering the EPZ. As part of the EPZ monitoring plan, mobile air-monitoring units are deployed to track ambient conditions and establish plume tracking in the event of a gas release. Stationary gas-monitoring equipment must be deployed at strategic places such as community perimeters or road blocks to be able to generate continuous condition reports. The placement of the air monitoring stations should be based on prevailing wind conditions and aligned with dispersion modeling results.

Community perimeter monitoring with Quazar.

Community perimeter monitoring with Quazar.

Communication technology such as wireless, general packet radio service, or worldwide interoperability for microwave access communication can be applied to gas monitoring and public protection. Innovations such as the Quazar from United Safety use both radio and Web technologies to get the right information at the right time to the right people. Data such as gas readings, wind speed, wind direction, global positioning satellite coordinates, unit identification (location), and distances from project/work site or other designated points are transmitted through wireless technology to the base, which, in turn, processes and averages data in order to facilitate well-timed decisions.

In the event of a release, the ERP will be executed. It should be quick, effective, and appropriate to protect the public, in addition to employees and contractors. It is crafted on the basis of different levels of emergency and provides the preparedness and response to the release. It should contain details on emergency definition and action, responsibilities of company and local authorities, evacuation and sheltering places, ignition procedures, resident information, maps, and more. A warning and public alarm system that is both visible and audible also needs to be in place. This ensures early notification so a timely community evacuation can be performed.

Another important factor on ensuring community protection is public relations. Media attention and intense public pressure make the ability to communicate within the response team as well as with stakeholders critical. A communications process/plan must be implemented and tested during drills.

The community must receive air monitoring data and activities schedules regularly, establishing confidence in the functionality of the safety program. EPZ personnel can also be used to communicate with residents. Another best-practice is distribution of a resident information package with a brief summary of the proposed activities, evacuation and ignition procedures, emergency telephone numbers, and a description of the hazards of the toxic gases present.

“Public protection still has some catching up to do when compared with onsite technology and safety measures,” Daher said. “To minimize impacts of toxic gas releases, companies should take into consideration the integration of gas monitoring and alarm equipment, communication, analysis of data, and dispersion modeling, culminating in a solid ERP plan. This is key to sustain long-term protection of the public living near oil and gas operations.”

To learn more on community protection in oil and gas, sign up for United Safety’s premium content here.

Webinar Lays Out Issues of Transporting Crude by Rail

Published June 25, 2014

On 29 July, SPE will present an online seminar that will examine issues presented by transporting crude oil by rail.

In May, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association (AFPM) delivered the results of a survey of Bakken crude oil characteristics to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The report summarized findings based on analysis of the more than 1,400 Bakken crude samples that 17 AFPM members submitted in response to a survey. The survey results show that Bakken crude oil is appropriately classified as a flammable liquid based on DOT and international transportation requirements.

The SPE online seminar will review the findings of the AFPM report. In addition, AFPM will discuss its support of a holistic approach to improving the safe transportation of crude oil by rail. According to the AFPM, the regulatory process underlying these goals must be data-driven, based upon sound science, subjected to a robust cost/benefit analysis, and developed in a transparent manner involving all stakeholders.

AFPM will also provide a brief update on the DOT Emergency Order of 7 May that requires railroads transporting more than 1 million gal of Bakken crude oil (approximately 35 tank cars) to notify state emergency response commissions about the expected movement of such trains through counties in that state.


The presentation will be delivered by David N. Friedman, vice president of regulatory affairs for AFPM. As AFPM’s regulatory affairs vice president, Friedman is responsible for formulating and implementing the refining and petrochemical industries’ environmental, fuels, safety and security missions, including the development of association’s policy on Congressional legislation and regulatory matters. Before being named environmental affairs director in 2006, he was in charge of directing advocacy activities for the association’s petrochemical membership, identifying, formulating and communicating industry policy positions to legislative and regulatory policymakers. AFPM’s members include more than 400 companies, including virtually all US refiners and petrochemical manufacturers.

Oil & Gas UK Releases Annual Health and Safety Report

Published June 20, 2014

Oil & Gas UK published its annual Health & Safety report on 19 June. As in previous years, the report sets out a summary of industry health and safety performance across a range of indicators and describes many of the issues and activities influencing that performance.

Industry health and safety performance during the last year presents a mixed picture; while progress has been made across certain areas, some safety indicators have deteriorated compared with the previous year.

The report confirmed that there has been a 49% reduction in the number of reportable hydrocarbon releases over 3 years to the end of March 2013—narrowly missing the 50% industry target. Despite the decrease in the number of major and significant releases continuing a welcome 5-year downward trend, the remainder of 2013 saw an overall increase in total number of releases. There was also a slight increase in the frequency of reportable injuries and dangerous occurrences, reversing the trend of improvement in previous years.

“Despite the ongoing and encouraging decrease in major and significant releases over the last year, the industry is not yet where it needs to be,” said Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK’s health and safety director. “Industry, working closely with the regulators and the workforce through Step Change and other bodies, is refocusing attention on preventative strategies and programs to maintain and enhance momentum in this crucial area.”

SPE Workshop Examines Environmental Stewardship

Published June 16, 2014

In September, SPE will present the workshop “Environmental Stewardship in Oil and Gas Development,” in Austin Texas. The workshop will be held at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center.

The 3-day workshop, running from 23 to 25 September, will present eight sessions, each reviewing a different aspect of the industry’s interaction with the environment and each presented by industry experts.

  • Session I—Applying Science to External Studies
  • Chairs—Denise Tuck, Halliburton Energy Services, and JoAnn McMahon, Baker Hughes
  • Good science is described as a system of knowledge that covers the operation of general laws obtained through valid scientific methodologies. However, now there is an abundance of literature available in the public domain concerning the potential effect of oil and gas development on health, safety, and the environment. Therefore, it is often difficult to distinguish between studies that apply good science vs. findings that do not pass the scrutiny of scientific examination. This session reviews recently published information on the effect of natural gas production, the importance of an unbiased approach to experimental design, and the need for critical thinking on interpretation of empirical data.
  • Session II—Water Source Operations
  • Chairs—Miranda Cruttenden, Talisman Energy, and Tekla Taylor, Golder Associates
  • Strategies around water sourcing for hydraulic fracturing operations can vary depending on a number of factors. Factors include the location of the operations, characteristics of the play, availability of resources, emerging technologies, stakeholder concerns, regulatory framework, and corporate water management objectives. In particular, the use of freshwater for hydraulic fracturing has become an issue in areas where supplies may be limited or at risk, leading to the implementation of innovative water management solutions. This session will present some of the approaches taken by operators to reduce freshwater use and economically manage water source operations.
  • Session III—Managing Flowback
  • Chairs—George King, Apache Corporation, and Matt Mantell, Chesapeake Energy
  • Discussion in this session will include methods of monitoring and enhancing fracture stimulation to help optimize fracture performance while actively reducing fracturing fluid volume and chemical.
  • Session IV—Chemicals
  • Chairs—Donnie Graves, Schlumberger, and Bridget Todd, Baker Hughes
  • Emphasis has been placed on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing within the US. This emphasis has spread globally and, as such, it affects which chemicals come to market. This session will explore the use of tools to screen products, the effects of regulations on taking a product into the market, and how much influence international regulations have on the use of products in the US market.
  • Session V—Utilizing Dynamic Water Management Tools to Optimize Surface Operations
  • Chairs—Nathan Kunert, Devon Energy, and Kay Cawiezel, BP America
  • Dynamic water management tools and models can both optimize operations for the entire water lifecycle process and reduce the environmental footprint. Variables including sourcing, treatment, storage, conveyance, transportation, and disposal must be analyzed holistically and in the context of dynamic regulatory requirements and increasing stakeholder concerns.
  • Session VI—Subsurface Operations Excellence
  • Chairs—Demarco Jones, XTO Energy, and Scott Anderson, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Protecting the environment during subsurface operations begins with sound wellbore construction and awareness of potential effects to the surrounding area. In order to achieve subsurface operations excellence, understanding environmental risk is key. This session will provide an overall review of well integrity and focus in particular on the importance of cementing, the effects of well interference, and the phenomenon of “frack hits.”
  • Session VII—Air Emissions: How “Air” We Doing?
  • Chairs—Danny Durham, Apache Corporation, and Michael Hurey, Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation
  • Air emissions from unconventional resource development have been drawing increased attention by many concerned parties including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the states, industry, and the public. EPA regulations are being implemented to quantify the emissions from shale operations and control the emissions of pollutants and contaminants. Industry is taking action to minimize emissions while the public is concerned with potential health effects.
  • Session VIII—Public Outreach and Education: Risks
  • Chairs—Grant Farion, Trican Well Service, and Pete Eichelberger, Shell
  • In recent years the proliferation of natural gas development in North America has been followed by increased awareness from the media, land owners, environmental groups, and the general public. As public awareness has increased, the gap between the perceived steps and the actual steps involved in natural gas development has also widened leading to an increased need for public education and outreach. This session will focus on what has been done and the risks associated with public outreach and education.

Online Presentation Examines Human Error

Published June 1, 2014

The SPE Gulf Coast Section is holding a presentation on human error on 17 June in Houston. For those unable to attend, the presentation will be broadcast online for free.


Andrew Dingee, Global Wells Learning Advisor with BP and chairperson of the SPE Human Factors Technical Section, will present a detailed look at human error as it is considered in safety management.

The human element is the most flexible and adaptable part of a company’s management system, but it is also the most vulnerable to influences that can adversely affect its performance. With the majority of accidents resulting from less than optimum human performance, there has been a tendency to label them as human error. However, the term “human error” is of little help in safety management. How do you fix human error? Although it may indicate where in the system the breakdown occurred, it provides no guidance as to why it occurred. An error attributed to humans may have been design-induced or stimulated by inadequate equipment or training, badly designed procedures, or a poor layout of checklists or manuals. Further, the term “human error” in accident reports allows concealment of the underlying factors that must be brought to the forefront if accidents are to be prevented. The workplace needs an understanding of the factors and conditions affecting human performance.

For a company to shift its philosophy of being reactive, it needs an understanding of human error when it comes to shift their management system to a preventive system. Incidents and accidents can not be labeled simply as human error. The safety system must understand the root of human behavior and the errors in the workplace.

The presentation will cover the levels of performance behaviors and review a case study from a US airline accident. The presentation discusses a number of studies that draws upon a growing understanding of how skilled experts are driven by moment-to-moment task demands, the availability of information, and social and organizational factors and ultimately continue with a plan even when the environment alerted them that another course of action should have been sought.


Online Event Looks at Industry’s Handling of Human Rights

Published May 29, 2014

An online event planned by the SPE Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Advisory Committee set for 9 June will examine the consideration of human rights in the oil and gas industry.

This event includes four presentations.

One presentation will be “Evolving Expectations of Oil and Gas Companies for Human Rights: Example of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights,” which will review the international framework for business and human rights with an emphasis on expectations of and opportunities for companies in the extractive sector. An illustration will be provided of evolving expectations and opportunities relating to business engagement with indigenous peoples.

The four speakers will be Roper Cleland,senior manager for the Social Responsibility Working Group at IPIECA; Yadaira Orsini, political scientist from Javeriana University; Ursula Wynhoven, general counsel and chief of governance and social sustainability for the United Nations Global Compact, the UN’s corporate sustainability initiative; and Nili Safavi, human rights specialist at BP.

SPE Americas HSE Conference Opens Call for Papers

Published May 26, 2014

A call for papers has gone out for the 2015 SPE E&P Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas. The conference will be held 16–18 March in Denver, and the deadline for paper submissions is 21 July. Papers are being accepted in more than 100 categories.

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.”

The theme of the international conference did not just set the tone for the meeting, it set a trajectory for the sessions, reflecting the health, safety, and environment (HSE) advances for which the industry strives.

Each session of the conference in Long Beach moved the attendees further along the journey. The opening session keynote set the theme and focused on future HSE challenges. From then, each plenary session told part of the story for addressing these challenges. The closing session keynote then reviewed the highlights from the previous sessions and addressed the role of effective leadership in addressing these challenges.

The SPE Americas HSE conference will continue the trajectory started in Long Beach. “The theme of the Americas 2015 Conference … not only builds upon the story line of the ‘Journey Continues’ from Long Beach but also reaches out in an inclusive way to recognize that it really does take all of us,” said Terry Thoem, conference committee chairperson.

The 2015 conference in Denver marks the first time since the conference’s inception in 1993 that it will be held outside of Texas, and planners anticipate significant local and regional participation.

Planning for the conference is well under way. A total of 57 people have come together to form a program committee, which has 15 subcommittees.

Several aspects of the conference are being designed to reach out to young professionals and students, Thoem said. The conference is being designed to engage attendees through questions and polling and voting tools. A student HSE contest is being designed, and a social event is planned to be held in conjunction with the Denver SPE section. Additionally, a movie screening, probably on hydraulic fracturing, will be held the night of the social event.

The keynote speaker for the first day is scheduled to be Helge Hove Haldorsen, 2015 SPE president and vice president of strategy and portfolio for Statoil Development and Production North America.