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19 Apr 2017

Panel Examines Methane Regulations and Opportunities

Three experts from different sectors discussed the challenges of methane and regulation at the first panel session of the 2017 SPE Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Conference—North America in New Orleans.

From left, Mark Boling, Hillary Hull, and Ramesh Narasimhan present their views on the challenges and opportunities of methane regulation. Credit: Adam Wilson/SPE.

Mark Boling, executive vice president of Southwestern Energy; Ramesh Narasimhan, a partner with Environmental Resources Management; and Hillary Hull, a senior research analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund, gathered on stage to present their perspectives on “Methane and Other Greenhouse Gases: What Do We Do Now?”

As moderator Brian Boyer pointed out at the beginning of the session, methane is not only a pollutant, it is also a product. Limiting fugitive emissions, therefore, makes not only environmental sense but also economic sense.

Hull’s talk examined the importance of research in gaining “a foundational understanding of methane emissions in oil and gas,” which is necessary to address the issue. And she pointed out that the 80/20 rule applies to methane emissions; 80% of the emissions come from 20% of sources. Many of those sources are what are known as super-emitters. Focusing on the super-emitters, she said, can have a significant effect on reducing methane releases.

A frequent theme of the talk was the uncertain regulatory environment brought about by the new US presidential administration. Narasimhan gave the example that, when the Trump administration took over from the Obama administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency was set to expand source performance standards from applying only to new or modified facilities to existing facilities. The new administration has put a halt to that.

Narasimhan said that, despite regulatory uncertainty, opportunities exist for companies looking at the issue of methane. These opportunities, he said, include chances for reduced loss of product and a boost in brand perception with stakeholders and the public. Controlling methane release also will have the added effects of reducing the release of other traditional pollutants, such as other greenhouse gases and particulate matter, and meeting additional regulations.

Narasimhan said that working to control methane also will present the opportunity of innovation, a claim reiterated by Boling.

Boling said he thought that regulation was not a solution to the problem of methane. “This will be solved by innovation, not regulation,” he said. “It’s an issue that can be solved, and it will be solved with science and innovation. And that’s what we plan to do.”

19 Apr 2017

SPE Americas HSE Conference Begins With a Blast

Airhorns blasted through the first plenary session of the 2017 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Social Responsibility Conference—North America, interrupting the talk and surprising attendees despite the prominent warning signs outside the venue warning of the potential noise. “How many of you actually expected airhorns to be used,” asked Tom Knode, the moderator of the session. Very few people raised their hands. The surprising stunt illustrated the ways our brains can disregard clear warnings.

From left, Susan Koen, Nada Wentzel, and Tom Knode discuss the brain’s role in safety during the first plenary session of the 2017 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Social Responsibility Conference—North America conference in New Orleans. Credit: Adam Wilson/SPE.

Enhancing safety by understanding how the brain works was the premise of the session, and the following days’ plenary sessions will build on this brain-centric analysis of safety.

Speakers Nada Wentzel and Susan Koen presented an examination of the brain and its blind spots and how they apply to safety. Wentzel is global solutions director of The Jonah Group and started the conversation by looking at how the brain works and how an understanding of this can enhance safety.

“The bulk of our behavior is based on unconscious decisions,” she said. “So, consider that the real opportunity is for us to get interested in how we make decisions so that we are actually enabling people to be safer, to be better.”

Koen continued the brain discussion by demonstrating blindspots in the brain’s ability to detect hazards. Repetitive actions and fatigue can lead to the brain failing to register important information. “People have to actually learn the skill of noticing,” she said. “It has to be taught.”

Koen expanded the theme as a speaker at the second plenary session on the second day of the conference. She was joined by John Carroll, professor  from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

The Day 2 session, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Group Behavior and How To Reach the Culture Tipping Point,” expands the brain-centic view of safety from the individual to the group.

11 Apr 2017

2017 SPE Americas HSE Conference Focuses on Sustainability

Sustainability will be a driving concept for the 2017 SPE Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Conference—North America, which is scheduled from 18–20 April in New Orleans. Three plenary sessions and several special sessions will branch out from the theme “Sustaining Our Future Through Innovation, Collaboration, and Capital Efficiency.” A technical program will see 46 papers presented in 14 sessions.

Plenary Sessions
The conference will be anchored by three plenary sessions, one on each day.

The first, titled “What Were They Thinking? A Look at How the Brain Works and Why That Is Important to HSE Professionals,” will examine the mechanisms of the decision-making process with a view on how hazard assessment can be introduced into it. Speakers will be Nada Wentzel from The Jonah Group and Susan Koen from Round-the-Clock Resources.

Koen will also be a featured speaker for the second day’s plenary session, titled “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Group Behavior and How To Reach the Culture Tipping Point.” John Carroll from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management will be joining her. Their presentation will build on the brain science presented in the previous plenary session and will consider how understanding social science and human behavior in groups can lend insight into effectively shaping a desired culture.

Wentzel will wrap up the plenary sessions on the third day with a look forward to implementing the concepts presented the previous two days. The third plenary session is titled “Now What? Practical Application of the Concepts To Achieve Best-in-Class HSSE Performance.” Examples of how brain and social science concepts have been applied will be the focus of this discussion and will give attendees ideas for putting the theory into action.

Panel Sessions
In addition to the three plenary session, the conference will feature four panel sessions:

  • “Methane and Other Greenhouse Gases: Now What Do We Do?” with speakers Mark Boling from Southwestern Energy, Ramesh Narasimhan with Environmental Resources Management, and Hillary Hull from the Environmental Defense Fund
  • “Navigating the Security Kaleidoscope in a Lean Operating Environment,” with speakers Ken Keiser from Parsons Corporation, Kenneth Carter from Exxon Mobil, and Robert Ream from BHP Billiton
  • “Can Someone Help Us Understand the Proposed Environmental Rules?” with speakers Steven Roche from Cimarex Energy, Dustin Van Liew from the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, and Terri Thomas from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
  • “Shaping Our Industry’s Next Chapter … ,” with moderators Jack Hinton and Wendy Harris, both from Baker Hughes

Student Challenge
Returning for the third time, the student challenge gives university students interested in health, safety, security, environment, and social responsibility careers the opportunity to test their knowledge in a tournament-style quiz contest. The contest includes quick, definitive lightening-round questions and longer thought-provoking questions for each university team. Points are awarded for each correct answer, with the winning team announced at the end of the challenge. The six teams participating this year are Colorado School of Mines, Louisiana State University, Oklahoma State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas Tech University, and the University of Oklahoma.

Read more about the conference here.

Register for the conference here.

7 Apr 2017

Newfield Exploration To Build New Water Recycling Facility

Newfield Exploration announced it has broken ground on a water recycling facility located in its Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher Counties (STACK) play in the Anadarko Basin, located in Kingfisher County, Oklahoma. The complex, named the Barton Water Recycle Facility, is expected to process approximately 30,000 BWPD upon completion early in the third quarter of 2017.

“The new Barton facility will be capable of recycling both the flowback and produced water currently generated from our STACK wells and hydraulic fracturing operations,” said Newfield chairman Lee K. Boothby. “Today’s innovative technologies are allowing us to more cost-effectively recycle and reuse the water we produce from our operations. This is good for our economics and good for the environment.”

The Barton facility will utilize aerated biologic treatment technology to convert produced water into recycled water for hydraulic fracturing operations. The treatment process uses natural and enhanced bioremediation, or good bacteria and nutrients, to separate and breakdown any existing impurities that may be contained in the produced water. The end result is a high-quality water primarily free of impurities—very similar to what is initially found in the reservoir rock.

Read the full story here.

30 Mar 2017

SPE Kicks Off New Technical Section for Unmanned Systems

The newly launched Unmanned Systems Technical Section will provide a central hub for questions, answers, discussion, collaboration, and networking around unmanned marine, air, and land vehicle systems, software solutions, and power systems for the oil and gas industry. Unmanned systems include remotely operated, autonomous surface, autonomous underwater, unmanned underwater, unmanned aerial, and autonomous aerial vehicles.

Source: Getty Images.

Remotely operated vehicles have been used by the oil and gas industry for approximately 40 years for subsea operations. Over the last several years, drones are just starting to be used for a number of applications such as surveying and inspections. In the near future, autonomous cars, trucks, ships, and aircraft will change the logistics landscape in ways we can only begin to imagine. Ultimately, it’s not the hardware or software, but the solution that these existing and new technologies bring to the oil and gas industry to improve safety and the efficiency of operations.

Read the full story here.

30 Mar 2017

Nanotechnology Could See Big Future in Water Cleanup

Nanotechnology could have a big future as a tool for upstream oil and gas and other industries to use to clean up contaminated water, Professor Michael S. Wong of Rice University, Houston, told the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s R&D Study Group recently.

A catalyst made of nanoparticles of gold on alumina with palladium atoms successfully treated chloroform-contaminated groundwater and is effective in treating other water contaminants such as nitrates, nitrites, and nitrophenol. Source: Rice University.

Wong, chair of the university’s chemical and biomolecular engineering department, said that the multidisciplinary nanotechnology field has sufficiently matured to enable researchers and practitioners to envision real prospective solutions to water contamination problems.

Water is by far the largest byproduct of the fossil fuel industry. Wong’s presentation noted that in the US, oil industry well operations produce in aggregate approximately 10 times as much water as they do oil, and in Canada the water/oil ratio is 14 to 1.

Catalytic Conversion
Wong focused on progress that has been made in developing catalysis methods—catalytic conversion—for water pollution control, a prime area of his research that involves the Catalysis and Nanomaterials Laboratory at Rice. Within the oil industry, catalysis plays a major role in petroleum refining operations such as cracking and reforming. In addition, Wong said, “An exciting new role for catalysis is in the treatment of produced water for reuse.”

Introducing a catalyst into a chemical process can bring about or speed up a chemical reaction, with the catalyst remaining unconsumed in the reaction and thus able to act repeatedly. Only tiny amounts of catalyst are needed to achieve these effects.

Wong stressed the advantage of catalytic conversion techniques over the established methods of activated carbon adsorption and air stripping that are used to remove many contaminants from water. By changing the chemical composition of the contaminated water, catalyzed reactions can break down and eliminate the contaminating agent. With the other processes, the contaminant is removed but disposal issues remain. Catalysis methods will also work much more quickly than the other techniques, Wong said.

Read the full story here.

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.