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30 Mar 2017

Symposium Examines Shifting Toward a Circular Economy

Nearly 60 experts from the oil and gas industry, academia, government, and nongovernmental organizations gathered for a multisector symposium in February with the objectives of networking and sharing best practices. The symposium, Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials and Resources, focused on the concept of a circular economy.

Credit: Getty Images.

A circular economy is described as an alternative to a linear economy, in which goods and resources are disposed at the end of their useful life. In a circular economy, goods and resources are used for as long as possible to extract their maximum value before they are recovered. A circular economy requires

  • Raw material and energy inputs
  • Feasible engineering solutions
  • Cross-sectoral flows and linkages
  • Effective policy measures
  • Education and research

This event was the third in a series on sustainability that started in 2009. The 2009 symposium was influential in the creation of SPE’s sustainability technical section. Key focus areas from the two earlier workshops included

  • The engineering system must be affordable and protective of the environment, and it must be consistent with public policies that adequately address the technical challenges across sectors.
  • The system must meet the user’s needs over its life cycle, and it must ensure that both short- and long-term operational goals are appropriately considered.
  • The system must be acceptable to those affected by its existence.
  • Innovation is needed in how resources are produced and managed.

Building on these themes, the various panels at the symposium explored the interdependent roles each play in bringing about a sustainable future. The outcome of these discussions resulted in a vision for a sustainable world where affordable and reliable resources support the social, economic, and environmental needs of a growing population. Key points from the third symposium include

  • The role of science and technology has to be better valued by the society as one of the more important pillars of sustainability and circular economy.
  • Design and manufacture should be undertaken with disassembly or recycling in mind.
  • Mineral resources have byproducts that should be captured and used (e.g., produced water), which can drive the need to shift from primary to secondary resources to move from a linear to a circular economy.
  • Companies require a probusiness approach for the circular economy that is integrated as part of the business plan, is adaptive, and reflects an understanding of the cost/benefit relationship of various initiatives. Business as usual will not get us to where we want to be.
  • Keep the message simple so everyone knows how they fit.
  • There is a need to re-envision technical subdisciplines. New methodologies and tools are needed to share with working professionals.
  • When consuming water, out of sight is not out of mind. A focus should be placed on the importance of groundwater.
  • Innovation is needed to advance the principles of sustainability, yet it can be stifled by standards and regulations. Regulators and industry need to be partners.
  • Do the right projects and do them right (e.g., focus on the outcome). Define the problem and solve it with a diversity of thought, experiences, and professions.
  • There is a call to action for multidiscipline and multisectoral professional societies and regulators.
  • Universities need to lead and participate in educating professionals with this multiperspective view.

Find additional details on the symposium here.


29 Mar 2017

First Workers Complete OPITO’s New Onshore Safety Training Standard

The first downstream oil and gas workers have successfully completed safety-critical training under a new industry standard that has been developed using the same criteria used to train offshore workers around the world.

Wild Geese instructors work on practical scenarios in Malaysia. Credit: OPITO.

Wild Geese Group in Malaysia is the first company to earn OPITO’s approval to deliver training as part of OPITO’s Onshore Petroleum Processing and Refining Facilities Standards, which were launched in November 2016.

The training provider is the first to be approved to deliver plant-manager and incident-commander initial response training and assessment training after meeting the strict criteria set out by the industry safety, standards, and workforce development body. Personnel from a Nusapetro onshore plant have been the first to undertake the training and assessment.

OPITO’s emergency response framework for onshore personnel encompasses key specialist roles whose function is to manage any emergency, coordinate the response, and respond to instructions around controlling an incident. These include control room operators, plant managers, incident commanders, and fire and emergency response team leaders.

OPITO’s upstream standards are delivered to workers in 45 countries and, in 2016, saw a record number of new approvals awarded to training provider companies.

OPITO Interim Chief Executive John McDonald said, “This is a great success story of a training provider responding to the needs of the operators in its region and getting itself into a strong position to be able to deliver OPITO’s standards and further ensure the safety of those working in the onshore downstream sector.” Expanding on the role of OPITO, he added, “On the wider global stage, we are increasingly seeing companies moving into the onshore arena where the challenge for operators has been that they potentially have a multinational, multigenerational workforce from different international and local organizations working across their campaigns. The onshore and offshore workforce share a lot of synergies in their safety requirements, so ensuring they have fit-for-purpose safety training and competency standards is arguably the most significant factor for their workforce.”

Wild Geese Group Chief Operations Officer Mike Herrmann, said, “I am very proud to have had the opportunity to be able to deliver the world’s first OPITO Plant Manager/Incident Commander course from our Malaysian Emergency Response Service Centre in Kuala Lumpur. I am also proud of our team as I appreciate how much hard work and effort is required to both achieve and maintain approval to deliver an industry standard to the quality demanded by OPITO and the sector.”

Read more about OPITO here.

23 Mar 2017

Hacking the Oil Field for Profit

Honeypots and pen testers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

10 Mar 2017

New Underwater Safety Center Planned for Asia

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

Underwater safety center. Credit: Auxilium Offshore.

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

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

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

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

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

Read about Auxilium Offshore here.

2 Mar 2017

West Virginia Scraps Noise Regulations for Compressor Stations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

21 Feb 2017

Public Comment Sought on UN Sustainable Development Goals Report

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

Source: United Nations Development Programme.

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

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

Review and comment on the report here.

Read about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals here.

14 Feb 2017

Unmanned Vehicles and Robotics Gain Momentum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full column here.


2 Feb 2017

White Paper Examines Effect of Human Factors on Drilling Safety

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

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

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

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

Read the white paper here.

Read more about OESI here.

2 Feb 2017

How Do Process and Occupational Safety Differ?

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

27 Jan 2017

PetroTalk: Sustainability Case Study—Driving Value Creation Through Innovation

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

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

27 Jan 2017

Speaker Boosts Morale of Fracturing Conference Attendees

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

Alex Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story here.

18 Jan 2017

Fatal Injuries in Oil and Gas Industry Dropped in 2015

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

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

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

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