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17 Jan 2017

SPE/BSEE Data-Sharing Initiative Aims To Improve Risk Management

For the past 3 years, SPE and the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), along with other industry groups and US federal government agencies, have been working on the development of a voluntary industrywide safety data-sharing framework that could help companies better identify and mitigate potential high-consequence risks in their operations.

At a panel discussion held by the SPE Gulf Coast Section, representatives from SPE, BSEE, the Center for Offshore Safety (COS), and the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) discussed the progress being made in the framework’s development.

In 2014, BSEE approached SPE with the idea of creating the framework. The following year, SPE and BSEE co-chaired a summit that included representatives from service companies, operators, the BTS, the COS, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). At that summit, the participants decided to limit the scope of the data collection and reporting framework to the US Outer Continental Shelf.

In April 2016, SPE held another summit to discuss the development and implementation of an industrywide safety data-sharing framework. Among the goals of this summit were the establishment of a pathway to address the challenges involved with data management and the leveraging of these strategic processes to address potential opportunities.

Doug Morris, chief of the Office of Offshore Regulatory Programs at BSEE, said the bureau’s primary goal with this initiative is the creation of a singular database available to everyone in the industry, rather than several proprietary databases that may have incomplete safety data. He said a critical component of the social license to operate is a system that helps the industry progress with safety issues in a transparent and proactive manner.

“We are all reactive,” Morris said. “When a major event occurs, we issue new regulations, we put out new standards, and then we wait for the next major problem. We want to break that cycle. We want to be proactive, identify issues, and prevent accidents from occurring.”

4 Jan 2017

Work as Imagined vs. Work as Done: Presentation Highlights CSB’s Macondo Findings

On 20 April 2010, a multiple-fatality accident occurred at the Macondo oil well approximately 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people were killed, and 17 were seriously injured. The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released its final investigation report from this incident in April 2016. Mary Beth Mulcahy, an investigator with the CSB, will present the results of the investigation at a meeting of the SPE Gulf Coast Section (GCS) Safety and Environmental Study Group on 10 January in Houston.



When conducting an investigation, the CSB builds on previously published investigation reports by analyzing evidence that, in some respects, became available only following their publication. An overview of the event and investigation report recommendations are available on the CSB website. This site also includes all four detailed reports. Given the global interest in this topic, SPE will also provide access to the event via webinar for any members interested in the topic but unable to attend in person. To register for the presentation or find more information about the webinar, visit the SPE GCS website.

Mulcahy’s presentation will provide highlights regarding the drilling contractor/operator relationship. The drilling contractor brings the infrastructure (drilling rig), supplies the majority of the workforce, and has more direct control over the primary operations (drilling) and emergency response (well control). The operator, though, is responsible for the well’s design and drilling program, which form the basis for establishing safe drilling operations, and should account for site-specific conditions that could increase the risk or complexity of the contractor’s various drilling and well control operations. As exemplified at Macondo, the operator and drilling contractor must actively work to bridge the gap between “work as imagined” in the drilling program and “work as done” by the well operations crew.

An excerpt from the executive summary of the report follows. The executive summary also provides a much more detailed listing of the key investigative findings and conclusions that highlights the complex, closely connected interplay of technical, human, organizational, and regulatory factors.

Recommendations Summary
In Volumes 1 and 2 of the CSB Macondo Investigation Report, the CSB issues two recommendations to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) within the US Department of Interior, recommending requirements for managing safety-critical elements and developing guidance to fulfill those new regulatory obligations.

The CSB also issues two recommendations to the American Petroleum Institute, recommending the publication of an offshore standard for the effective management of technical, operational, and organizational safety critical elements and revisions to API Standard-53 requirements for testing and monitoring of blowout prevention systems.

Volume 3 contains six recommendations. The CSB issues one to the American Petroleum Institute to revise API Recommended Practice 75 to expand Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) responsibilities beyond just the operator; include explicit and expanded responsibilities for human factors, corporate governance, workforce involvement, contractor oversight, and key performance indicators; and incorporate the principles of a risk reduction concept [e.g., as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)] and the hierarchy of controls.

Three recommendations to the US Department of Interior concern developing industry guidance on human factors and corporate governance and establishing a process safety culture improvement program.

The CSB issues one recommendation to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to update, strengthen, and finalize the SASB’s provisional Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Sustainability Accounting Standard to expand its reporting recommendations to include disclosure of additional leading and lagging indicators, safety goals based on annual statistical analysis of industry data, and emphasis on the preventive value of leading and process safety indicators and the active monitoring of barrier effectiveness.

Finally, the CSB issues one recommendation to the Ocean Energy Safety Institute to conduct further study on riser gas unloading scenarios and publicize those learnings to advance industry understanding of this well operations risk.

Volume 4 issues five recommendations to the Department of Interior. In brief, the CSB recommends revision and augmentation of existing offshore oil and gas safety regulations, including the SEMS Rule, to a more robust risk management regulatory framework that embodies key regulatory attributes found in other global offshore regions, including but not limited to systematic analysis and documentation by the responsible companies that risks have been reduced to ALARP and barriers are effective to manage major accident hazards.

The other four recommendations involve

  • Augmenting the capabilities and functioning of BSEE to empower it with the explicit regulatory authority to proactively assess industry safety management programs and practices before major accidents occur through preventive inspections, audits, and review and acceptance of regulatory-required safety management documentation
  • Expanding BSEE staff to increase collective experience, diversity, and competencies in technical and safety-critical fields of study, including human and organizational factors and process safety
  • Improving the offshore safety regulatory reporting program to focus on leading process safety indicators and barrier performance metrics that drive continual safety improvements of industry through specific indicator data trending, goal-setting, and transparency
  • Strengthening regulatory requirements to improve worker engagement in major accident safety management, including but not limited to workforce-elected safety representatives and committees; authority and opportunity to interact with management and the regulator on safety concerns through proactive mechanisms; tripartite collaboration between workforce, industry, and regulator; and worker protections to encourage all such activities

Download the complete executive summary here (PDF).

3 Jan 2017

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Workshop Tackles Issue Management Across Oil and Gas Operations

Fifty participants, including health, safety, and environment professionals, managers, and practitioners representing 13 countries and 15 oil and gas companies, attended a biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) workshop held on 17–18 November in Bangkok. The workshop, which was the third in a series and was hosted by PTTEP, was highly interactive, including a hypothetical case study, quizzes, and group discussions.


Participants discuss biodiversity and ecosystem services at a peer-to-peer workshop in Bangkok. Credit: IPIECA.

Participants gained fundamental training in BES issue management in areas throughout the lifecycle of oil and gas operations, such as screening, scoping, baseline assessment, impact assessment, management and mitigation, and monitoring and reporting, as well as building the business case for BES and integrating BES management into governance and business processes.

Since 2014, IPIECA and the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, in collaboration with United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, have delivered a series of BES peer-to-peer training workshops. The workshops are aimed at, and delivered by, oil and gas professionals, with the objective of building capacity and learnings around BES concepts and their relevance for the oil and gas industry. The workshops introduce BES principles and training in BES issue management throughout the entire project life cycle of oil and gas production. A mixture of IPIECA and external BES good practices and tools is used as a key component of the training material to facilitate their implementation and improve performance across the sector. The workshops provide a valuable opportunity for individuals to share practical examples of on-the-ground experience and to learn from others.

IPIECA has developed numerous tools and guidance to assist the industry in improving BES management and meeting BES-related standards. IPIECA’s BES Fundamentals guidance document sets out a management framework composed of six BES management practices and provides essential information on BES strategy development at the corporate level and at key stages of an asset life cycle. This guidance and the management framework were used throughout the workshop. Also used was the Cross Sector Biodiversity Initiative Timeline Tool, which is designed to assist companies in aligning project development, biodiversity effect management, and financial timelines.

IPIECA says it continues to seek opportunities to expand the scope and delivery of the peer-to-peer training and is looking to hold the next BES peer-to-peer workshop in Africa in 2018.

Read more about IPIECA here.


30 Dec 2016

Symposium Focuses on a Sustainable Circular Economy

A symposium set for 18–19 February 2017 in Denver is reimagining the global economy in a circular, sustainable way. The Engineering Solutions for Sustainability: Materials and Resources Symposium carries the theme “Towards a Circular Economy.”

In a circular economy—an alternative to the traditional linear economy of “make, use, dispose”—resources are used for as long as possible with the goal of extracting maximum value from them while in use. And, at the end of service life, they are recovered, reused, recycled, or stockpiled until economically viable recycling technologies are available. The importance of recycling resource efficiency and intersecting life cycles will be examined for materials and manufacturing sustainability within areas of societal need.

The symposium is designed to focus on approaches for providing the resources and materials needed to meet basic societal needs in critical areas of minerals and metals, energy, water, transportation, and housing through a circular economy.

Abstract submissions are being accepted for the symposium until 31 August. Submissions are invited on pertinent topics with a focus on the circular economy, including the following:

  • Basics of a circular economy and an integrated materials and energy flow
    • Raw material and energy inputs
    • Efficient raw materials and energy production and delivery
    • Materials and energy efficient design
  • Feasible engineering solutions to address challenges and improve effectiveness
    • “Low-waste” production, remanufacturing, management, and resource recovery
    • Enhanced distribution systems for input materials and energy, manufactured goods, and materials recovery and reuse
    • Addressing challenges of use, consumption, reuse, repair, and waste
    • Improved waste collection and recycling systems
    • Performance metrics
  • Interdependence of sectors and vision for sustainable development
    • Cross-sectoral flows and linkages
    • Water/land/energy nexus and bridging philosophical gaps
    • Effective public policy measures
    • Education and research
    • Integration of sustainability in an organization’s business plan
  • Case studies from energy and mineral fuels, industrial minerals, stone and aggregates, chemicals, metals, food, bio-based materials, and other industries

Read more about the symposium here.

Submit an abstract here.

14 Dec 2016

President’s Column: To Be Leaders of Integrity, We Must Earn Trust

Our reputation is earned. The public has high expectations, and we must strive to deliver perfection in our operations. But, of course, we work in an unpredictable and imperfect world. Sustainability and environmental awareness require small development footprints and controlled production streams.



As engineers, we often try to argue with logic and facts, when emotions and media buzz are what really drive the conversation. Benjamin Franklin said that “it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Today’s financial pressures leave little margin for error. All of us pay when anyone in our industry makes a mistake, and we pay forever. How do we preserve our license to operate in a world that distrusts our industry?

A recent column in the Houston Chronicle, which we would all expect to be energy-friendly, admitted that our industry has “always fulfilled a critical societal need by providing affordable energy that spurs economic development.” But “those benefits have been overshadowed by catastrophic events and a warming planet.” The article was accompanied by photos of oil-covered cleanup workers from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

We can never outrun our past.

I have a special concern about operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. When I was president of Chevron’s Environmental Management Company, we dealt with the end of life issues with all aspects of our industry—offshore platforms, pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico, remediated refinery and service station sites, and Superfund sites. Environmental management does not generate revenue, and, every quarter, I had to go to Chevron’s executive committee and report the charges against Chevron’s financial reserves for environmental cleanup.

After yet another unhappy report, I remember one of the executive vice presidents leaning over to ask me, “What would it take to stop this?” My reply was simple: Just keep it in the tanks. Without releases, no cleanup. Small footprint operations save money. And, in a time when concern about use of fossil fuels is growing in North America and Western ­Europe, our past actions affect our social license to continue to operate.

Read the full column here.

7 Dec 2016

Leveraging Microbes When Responding to a Spill

Credit: Getty Images.

Credit: Getty Images.

Microbes play a key role in the response to an oil spill. Approximately half of the oil released during the Deepwater Horizon spill has been or will be degraded by naturally occurring microbes that live in the Gulf of Mexico. Because microbes play such a large role in the degradation of spilled oil, an effective spill response requires an understanding of the microbial response to the spill. Microbial ecology experiments, which measure this response, can provide spill responders with four key types of information.

Natural Biodegradation Rate—If a spill occurs, how quickly will the indigenous microbes degrade the spilled oil? The effectiveness of a spill-response strategy should be measured against that baseline. An intervention might do nothing (or, worse, it might slow down natural degradation), and it would be impossible to know this without having measured the baseline degradation rate.

Recalcitrance of Spilled Fractions—Which fractions of the oil are broken down quickly, and which will persist? Responders should focus on interventions that degrade or contain the fractions that are most toxic or least likely to be broken down naturally.

Limiting Nutrients—In some environments, the absence of a nutrient (e.g., iron or phosphorous) limits microbes’ ability to break down oil. It may be possible to add that nutrient into the environment to relieve that limitation.

Effect of Dispersants—Do dispersants increase the rate at which the naturally occurring microbes degrade the oil, or do the microbes preferentially consume the dispersant instead of the oil?

The results of microbial experiments can have an immediate and substantial effect on spill-response strategy. For example, if applying a chemical dispersant is expected to increase the baseline degradation rate by some amount, this improved removal of oil from the environment can be rationally and quantitatively weighed against the effects of releasing a potentially toxic dispersant. In the long term, these experiments can provide evidence that the optimal, scientifically informed spill-response strategy was used. We expect that the enormous benefits from these experiments will outweigh the cost and inconvenience of having them performed.

Unfortunately, there is no single, worldwide answer to all those questions. In a study supported by BP, we found that microbial degradation of oil is different in different areas around the world. Just as there are different kinds of oil in different places, there are different kinds of microbes, too. Different kinds of microbes will respond to different kinds of oil in ways that can be measured but not accurately predicted.

Because microbial behavior varies from place to place—and probably from year to year in the same place—we recommend that, in the event of a spill, responders measure microbial behavior in that place at that time and use that data to inform their response strategy. Fortunately, experiments to gather the kind of information we listed can be performed in a matter of days or weeks.

Because spill responses are emergencies, we recommend flexible data collection decision-making rather than a rigid procedure. Spill-response strategists should develop relationships with trained microbiologists and microbial ecologists who, in the event of a spill, will perform experiments directly at the spill site. This relationship can be productive before a spill occurs; spill-response strategies should be formulated initially on the basis of baseline microbiological surveys. In theory, anyone with the right equipment and protocols could perform these experiments, but we expect that, in practice, many ad hoc decisions will need to be made by experimenters during the spill-response emergency. Microbial ecologists and environmental microbiologists are the best qualified to make the flexible decisions that are most likely to produce useful data in an uncertain situation. A decision that appears innocuous to a layperson might lead to a completely failed experiment.

We recommend the following timeline for a data-driven response:

During Normal Operations—Contact and develop informal relationships with microbiologists and microbial ecologists who study the exploited basin. Determine their willingness to be members of an ad hoc spill-response team. Discuss the recommended experiments.

Just After the Spill—Contact ad hoc team members. Develop plans for sampling the microbial community and performing the experiments. Conduct or support baseline measurements of microbial behavior and use that data to inform the prepared spill-response strategy.

Days After the Spill—Conduct or support microbial community sampling.

Two Weeks After the Spill—Initial experiments should have concluded. Interpret experimental results and incorporate that data dynamically into the spill response. Plan the next round of short-term experiments to improve on relevant knowledge gained in the first round.

Beyond 2 Weeks—Continue operations that provide information that guides the spill response. Begin research into the effect of the spill using the ad hoc team or by recruiting new members.

In general, academics would be intellectually eager to have access to samples from an oil spill, and they probably are also motivated to provide information that would lead to a more effective spill response.

The material requirements for these experiments are modest:

  • Tens of liters of water or tens of grams of sediment from the affected area
  • Milliliters of the spilled oil
  • Milliliters of dispersant
  • Thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in technical and personnel costs

For experimenters, we emphasize that initial experiments should answer practical questions about spill-response strategies such as the ones outlined here. In each experiment, water (or water and sediment) is placed in a bottle and amended with oil, dispersant, or nutrients. Respirometry can measure the carbon dioxide evolved by the microbes and, thus, the amount of oil or dispersant they broke down. Mass spectrometry and chromatography can measure the fractions of oil broken down by the microbes. Every experiment should be paired with a relevant control inoculated with artificial seawater or authentic seawater sterilized by autoclaving.

We hope that this information can help spill-response practitioners understand how to make spill-response decisions that are informed by the behavior of the microbes that will always be a major partner in cleaning up spilled oil.

1 Dec 2016

New EPA Regulations Issued To Curb Methane and VOC Emissions

Completions of hydraulically fractured gas and oil wells, such as this well in North Dakota, are subject to the 2016 NSPS. Source: sf.co.ua2016.

Completions of hydraulically fractured gas and oil wells, such as this well in North Dakota, are subject to the 2016 NSPS. Source: sf.co.ua2016.

On 3 June, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued three new rules to curb the emission of methane, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and toxic air pollutants from the oil and gas industry. The rules became effective on 2 August. The rules and the corresponding citation of federal regulations are

  • Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources
    • (40 CFR Part 60 Subparts OOOO and Subpart OOOOa)
  • Source Determination for Certain Emission Units in the Oil and Natural Gas Sector
    • (40 CFR Parts 51, 52, 70, and 71)
  • Final Federal Implementation Plan for Oil and Natural Gas True Minor Sources and Amendments to the Federal Indian
    • (40 CFR  Parts 51, 52,70, and 71)

This article addresses only Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. Although the definition of GHG includes six gases, in the context of EPA regulations and the upstream oil industry, GHG specifically refers to methane.

In March 2014, the Obama administration issued the Climate Action Plan: Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions. This was followed by announcing a new goal in January 2015 to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025. EPA authority for the 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) stems from the Clean Air Act and the Administration Climate Action Plan.

The NSPS are the rules and standards set by the EPA for monitoring and controlling emissions from newly constructed oil and gas facilities. The definition of sources of emission as well as the definition of new facilities are explained in the rules.

EPA’s new methane regulations build on the 2012 NSPS. The aim of the 2016 NSPS is to update 2012 standards to add requirements that the industry reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, specifically methane. It also covers hydraulically fractured oil wells and other activities in oil and gas production, processing, transmission, and storage that were not covered in the 2012 rules.

21 Nov 2016

Developing a Nationally Diverse and Competent Workforce for the Oil and Gas Industry


At SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE) this year, SPE’s Sustainable Development Technical Section held a special session panel discussion focused on workforce diversity and competency in the upstream oil and gas industry. The objective of this discussion was to emphasize the importance of diversity efforts in the industry and emphasize that these efforts should not fluctuate with oil price as they unfortunately tend to do. Building cultural diversity, combined with gender diversity, is a long-term initiative requiring leadership conviction and perseverance. What is called development of local content has been, and still is, the most urgent and crucial objective for the industry. Included within its scope are

  • Improving the ability of the education system and of the universities to deliver continuously well-educated engineers and technicians.
  • Increasing the commitment of oil and gas companies and the whole supply chain associated with the oil and gas business to hire and develop men and women from the country. Research shows that out of 10 jobs created by the industry, nine are in the supply chain.
  • Accelerating efforts to develop local talents to a level of autonomy. This requires coordinated actions and investments from the oil and gas sectors to use best-in-class training technology. Research shows that huge efficiency gains could be achieved in this field.
  • Getting oil and gas companies to adopt a “farmer” approach as opposed to a “poacher” approach, and using regulations to encourage companies to develop young talents from universities, vocational schools, and high schools. It is proven to be good for the companies, for the industry, and for the country.
  • Opening international opportunities to local talents to avoid having their career in the oil and gas sector limited and to allow them to reach the highest levels of responsibility in their own company. Women are a natural extension and enrichment of the talent pool.

During his opening keynote address, Amin Nasser, president and chief executive officer of Saudi Aramco, highlighted that managing talent was part of his four-part framework for the future. Despite tough times, he also stated that now is the time to reboot the industry’s approach to human resources, including bringing more women into key positions. Similarly, during his opening remarks, Abdul Munim Saif Al Kindy, director of exploration, development, and production for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), emphasized the importance of developing staff, further adding that ADNOC is committed to developing the next generation of leaders judged on merit and that he will work to empower women, which he acknowledged was a neglected human resource in the industry.

Both of these perspectives provided an excellent backdrop for the topic that was explored further in the panel. The session was kicked off by Janeen Judah, 2017 SPE president. She stressed the importance of the topic and the need for SPE to do what it could to support its global members in this area. The discussion was moderated by moderated by Roland Moreau, SPE’s vice president of finance, and included the following distinguished panelists:

  • Pierre Bismuth, senior adviser for Accenture Strategy Upstream—Importance of Diversity and Early Engagement
  • Tony Montes, senior adviser in talent development for Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations (ADCO)—Competency and Diversity From Operator’s Prspective
  • Mohamed Al Hosani, program director for Emirates Foundation—National Development Strategies as They Apply to License To Operate

Bismuth started the discussion by sharing his personal perspectives and experience as they relate to diversity and early engagement.  This was then following by Montes, who provided an operator’s perspective along with examples of how to effectively address competency and diversity as part of your business. The final speaker was Al Hosani, who addressed the development strategies and how they relate to a company’s license to operate.

The Slow Yet Deep Transformation of the Industry With the Rise of Diversity
Bismuth shared a timeline with the audience that showed the industry’s progression in integrating diversity as part of its business model.  This timeline started with the emergence of national oil companies in the 1970s and identified other key milestones that included the promulgation of US affirmative actions, state regulations, and faculty diversity. All of this was presented with the context of industry upturns creating a huge demand for talent; increasing easy access to worldwide career opportunities via the Internet; and the growing number of women attracted to oilfield-related and science disciplines, including remote operations. All of this stresses the importance within the oil and gas industry of planning for the workforce of the future.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

The type of transformation promoted by Bismuth, however, is not without its challenges. Fig. 1 summarizes some of the arguments expressed either for or against diversity in the industry. Industry continues to focus on this integration, and, today, diversity is part of the industry in a significant way, both the perspective of cross-cultural diversity and gender diversity. While there remains room for much more progress in this area, both universities and industry are seeing an increasing percentage of women interested in this industry sector.

Bismuth discussed how future success related to diversity hinges on resolution of the following issues:

  • The ability of companies and employees to work together in finding the right balance between career needs, family needs, and personal ambitions. Related considerations that must be addressed when weighing this balance include child care and education, health, family economics, and the stress/competition of dual careers.
  • The need for companies to address female career progression issues effectively, including glass-ceiling perceptions, lack of support, pre- and post-maternity challenges, lack of career expectations, and isolation/exclusion in some situations.
  • The continuous demand for more diversity among both university faculty and students.

As an example of progress, however, Bismuth noted that several companies have actively committed to ensuring success with gender diversity and have endorsed the seven-principle call to action at the World Economic Forum. The call to action invloves

  • Leadership—Make it a strategic business imperative led from the top.
  • Aspiration and goal setting—Set challenging but achievable goals.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) pipeline—Support development of women into STEM in school and university.
  • Clear responsibility—Delegate and oversee diversity goal achievement with managers.
  • Recruitment, retention, and promotion policies—Ensure gender-sensitive process.
  • Inclusive corporate culture—Create an open culture wherein all genders thrive.
  • Work environment and work/life balance—Develop and communicate gender-sensitive policies.

In closing, he highlighted what he feels are the success factors and conditions that need to be met for diversity sustainability:

  • Demand for new graduates to be sustained despite cycles.
  • International companies to increase efforts on nationals.
  • Companies committed to developing talent pool instead of poaching.
  • Create and preserve same standards for all.
  • Develop an open and sensitive leadership.

If you have questions regarding Bismuth’s presentation, he may be contacted at pierre.bismuth@accenture.com.

An Operator’s Perspective and Journey on Developing a Nationally Diverse and Competent Workforce
Montes then focused on efforts undertaken by ADCO to address workforce diversity and competence, including the importance of leveraging diversity in a connected world. More specific to ADCO, he shared an operating company’s perspective with respect to business realities and organizational strategies, the need to build frameworks for competency and capability building, the pace of implementation, and the challenges faced along the way. For starters, Montes noted that, within ADCO, women represented 15% of the total workforce. This increases to 35% for their Abu Dhabi operations and, not unexpectedly, drops to 2% when looking at only field operations.

He then offered his perspectives on the concepts of diversity vs. homogeneity by sharing the following considerations:

  • Seek out new environments (e.g., companies, industries, countries). Whenever we are in a new environment, we carefully observe what is going on around us because we want to understand.
  • In a new environment, we are not afraid to ask silly questions. Active observation with the will to understand helps us to become more comfortable with questioning.
  • Procter and Gamble and Google regularly exchange employees for a few days so that they can observe peers from another great company at work.
Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Montes noted that ADCO is faced with the same challenges as many other companies in that the supply vs. demand gaps for experienced engineers will continue to grow. Within ADCO, he shared that the average operational age is expected to drop from 40 years in 2014 to 35 years in 2017. Similarly, operational experience over this same period is expected to drop from 16 years to 12 years, a decrease of 25%. Total Emiratization over this span is expected to grow from 53% to 75%. Fig. 2 reflects how these data highlight the challenges of competing realities that support the need for diverse workforce talent and capabilities.

Next, Montes described the process used within ADCO to help address these challenges. First among these is a performance management succession planning process that is intended to guide entry-level employees through the various level of professional development to either leadership or technical specialist roles. Each of these steps along the development path is supported by suggested training that focuses on the necessary skills and experiences required to meet performance expectations. This process is further supported by preparation of a personal development plan, periodic career ladder reviews, and learning academies focused at enhancing key skills.  Elements of their overall career development program include strategic recruiting, accountable entry point development, competency-based strategy learning, removing the glass ceiling for technical staff, a leadership development framework, and succession planning.

ADCO also designed a discipline development framework that captures all elements of an employee’s career path and development needs. It brings together all learning, skills, and competencies, support, management, and implementation landscapes required for career progression (i.e., delineating a clear career path). More detailed elements of this framework include mentoring, on-the-job training, courses/programs, and self-study.

In closing, Montes offered the following guiding principles supporting the need for more integrated workforce diversity and competency in the future:

  • The business case for leveraging diversity is compelling. It determines sustainability of organizational performance.
  • Defining the differences that “make the difference” goes deeper than national identities.
  • The agenda for nationalization and attracting, developing, and retaining international talent are two sides of the same coin.
  • Robust and structured talent and capability development frameworks and processes will fail if they are implemented as technical solutions to adaptive challenges.
  • Enable and support female empowerment.

If you have questions regarding Montes’ presentation, he may be contacted at jmontes@adco.ae.

Developing Local Talent
As noted earlier, the third panelist, Al Hosani, provided his perspective around the Emirates Foundation strategies for addressing the important issues of diversity and workforce competence on the global stage.  First, he shared the Emirates Foundation vision and mission statements.

  • Vision—Emirates Foundation inspires, empowers, and guides the youth of the UAE to secure the nation’s sustainable future.
  • Mission—We work in partnership with the private and public sectors using venture philanthropy to impact the lives of youth positively and permanently.

Not surprisingly, Al Hosani stressed that youth is their strongest asset, with youth in their database totaling more than 60,000.  Emirates Foundation focuses on understanding youth trends as they relate to knowledge and expertise and on establishing powerful networks connecting the private and public sectors.

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

He then described the concept of venture philanthropy, which is summarized in Fig. 3. This can be best characterized as business-based, built on best practices, systemic, and long term. The objective is to respond to gaps in the market. The model is endorsed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and is the only such foundation in the Middle East. As an example, one of the noted programs—Kafa’at—strives to align philanthropy with the needs of local talent. This is accomplished by equipping youth with leadership skills, driving youth interest and potential to become social entrepreneurs, building youth capacities through mentorship, and providing youth with insights into the private and semigovernment sectors. More specific to the latter point, the Emirates Foundation conducts a program aimed at attracting talent to the private sector that includes the following elements:

  • Job readiness—Training workshops to university students, job seekers, and newly joined employees that combine theory and experiential learning and that build awareness of the work environments to steer youth mindsets toward considering private sector careers.
  • Discover the private sector—Organizing trips to companies in the private and semigovernment sectors, giving youth insights into various business functions and work environments.
  • Future leaders—Introducing youth to leadership learning theories and models to help equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to become future leaders.
  • Social enterprise—Developing youth capacity to become social entrepreneurs and contribute to increased social impact.
  • Emirates Award for the Arabian Gulf Youth—A competition aimed at promoting social-enterprise projects by youngsters across the Gulf Cooperation Council states.
  • Mentorship portal—A 3-month structured program connecting Emirati youth with senior mentors and business leaders that guides youth in personal and career development and is aimed at transforming them to contribute more toward national development.

Finally, the Emirates Foundation works with businesses to promote internship opportunities with the objective of further improving skills and providing a better awareness of the working environment. A web site has been developed for both interns and employers that helps identify opportunities and provides additional resources for interns. The site also highlights flexible opportunities designed to address individual situations more effectively as they relates to availability (e.g., seasonal, part-time, evenings, Saturdays only).

If you have questions regarding Al Hosani’s presentation, he may be contacted at mhalhosani@emiratesfoundation.ae.

All in all, this special panel session proved to be a very enlightening discussion on the topic. Once all was said, however, it was obvious to all those in attendance that workforce diversity and competence is definitely a timely and strategic topic for the oil and gas industry today.

10 Nov 2016

Paper: The Impact of Styles of Thinking and Cognitive Bias on How People Assess Risk and Make Real-World Decisions in Oil and Gas Operations

Awareness of the psychological realities of different styles of thinking can provide deep understanding of the choices people make and the actions they take when they are faced with assessing risk and making decisions in real time under operational conditions. At a time when the industry is striving to achieve more with fewer staff and resources, there is a compelling need to understand better how these psychological processes actually influence real-world operations and to develop practical approaches to mitigating the associated risks.

While there have been previous attempts to apply this area of knowledge to the analysis of real-world incidents and to develop operational interventions, such attempts have been limited to date, and have lacked the necessary research evidence. Written from a psychological perspective, the purpose of this paper is to illustrate how such knowledge can be operationalized and used to gain deeper understanding of the nature of human error in real-world oil and gas operations.

Read the full paper here (PDF).

8 Nov 2016

Column: Engineering a Safer World

In this column, I provide a book report on Nancy Leveson’s Engineering a Safer World (2012).

The central premise of the book is: The process hazard analysis methods we use today were designed for the relatively simple projects of yesterday and are inadequate for the complex projects we build today.

I agree with her.

Would It Have Prevented Bhopal?
My litmus test of a new process hazard analysis technique is: “Would this approach have prevented the Bhopal accident?” A typical hazard and operability study (HAZOP) would not have prevented Bhopal, in my opinion. I believe that Leveson’s systems-theoretic process analysis (STPA), a process and safety-guided design approach, would have.

Why Do We Need a New Approach to Safety?
The traditional approaches worked well for the simple systems of yesterday. But the systems we are building today are fundamentally different.

  • Reduced ability to learn from experience because of
    • The increased speed of technology change
    • Increasing automation removes operators from direct and intimate contact with the process
  • Changing nature of accidents from component failures to system failures due to increasing complexity and coupling
  • More complex relationships between humans and technology
  • Changing public and regulator views on safety. Decreasing tolerance for accidents.
  • Difficulty in making decisions because at the same time as safety culture is improving, the business environment is getting more competitive and aggressive

Accident models explain why accidents occur, and they determine the approaches we take to prevent them from recurring. Any such model is an abstraction that focuses on those items assumed to be important while ignoring issues considered less important.

The accident model in common use today makes these assumptions:

  • Safety is increased by increasing system and component reliability.
  • Accidents are caused by chains of related events beginning with one or more root causes and progressing because of the chance simultaneous occurrence of random events.
  • Probability risk analysis based on event chains is the best way to communicate and assess safety and risk information.
  • Most accidents are caused by operator error.

This accident model is questionable on several fronts.

Safety and reliability are different properties. A system can be reliable and unsafe.

Component failure is not the only cause of accidents; in complex systems, accidents often result from the unanticipated interactions of components that have not failed.

The selection of the root cause or initiating event is arbitrary. Previous events and conditions can always be added. Root causes are selected because

  • The type of event is familiar and thus an acceptable explanation for the accident.
  • It is the first event in the backward chain for which something can be done.
  • The causal path disappears for lack of information. (A reason human error is frequently selected as the root cause is that it is difficult to continue backtracking the chain through a human.)
  • It is politically acceptable. Some events or explanations will be omitted if they are embarrassing to the organization.

Causal chains oversimplify the accident. Viewing accidents as chains of events and conditions may limit understanding and omit causal factors that cannot be included in the event chain.

It is frequently possible to show that operators did not follow the operating procedures. Procedures are often not followed exactly because operators try to become more efficient and productive to deal with time pressures and other goals. There is a basic conflict between an error viewed as a deviation from normative procedures and an error viewed as a deviation from the rational and normally used procedure. It is usually easy to find someone who has violated a formal rule by following established practice rather than specified practice.

We need to change our assessment of the role of humans in accidents from what they did wrong to why it made sense to them at the time to act the way they did.

Complexity Primer
Project management theory is based generally on the idea of analytic reduction. It assumes that a complex system can be divided into subsystems and that those subsystems can then be studied and managed independently.

Of course, this can be true only if the subsystems operate independently with no feedback loops or other nonlinear interactions. That condition is not true for today’s complex projects.

Complex systems exist in a hierarchical arrangement. Even simple rules sets at lower levels of the hierarchy can result in surprising behavior at higher levels. An ant colony is a good example (Mitchell 2009): A single ant has few skills—a very simple rule set. Alone in the wild, it will wander aimlessly and die. But, put a few thousand together, and they form a culture. They build and defend nests, find food, divide the work.

Culture? Where did that come from?  No scientist could predict ant culture by studying individual ants.

This is the most interesting feature of complex systems. Culture is not contained within individual ants; it is only a property of the collective. This feature is called emergence—the culture emerges.

An emergent property is a property of the network that is not a property of the individual nodes. The sum is more than the parts.

Safety is Emergent
There is a fundamental problem with equating safety with component reliability. Reliability is a component property. Safety is emergent. It is a system property.

Fig. 1—Simplified hierarchy of project and operating assets.

Fig. 1—Simplified hierarchy of project and operating assets.

The system is hierarchical (Fig. 1). Safety depends on constraints on the behavior of the components in the system, including constraints on their potential interactions and constraints imposed by each level of the hierarchy on the lower levels.

Safety as a Control Problem
Safety depends on system constraints; it is a control problem.

Fig. 2 is a simple control loop. We are all familiar with control loops for controlling process variables. This is no different.

The four required conditions for control are:

  • Goal condition. The controller must have a goal. For a simple process control loop, the goal is to maintain the set point.
  • Observability condition. Sensors must exist that measure important variables. These measurements must provide enough data for the controller to observe the condition of the system.
  • Model condition. The controller must have a model of the system (process model). Data measured by the sensors are used both to update the model and for direct comparison to the goal or set point.
  • Action condition. The actuator must be able to take the action(s) required to achieve the controller goals.
Fig. 2—A Control loop.

Fig. 2—A Control loop.

Role of Mental Models
The controller may be a human or an automated system. It must contain a model of the system (process model).If the control is a human, he or she must possess a mental model of the system.

The designer’s mental model is different from the operator’s mental model. The operator’s model will be based partly on training and partly on experience. Operators use feedback to update their mental models. Operators with direct control of the process will quickly learn how it behaves and update their mental models. In highly automated systems, operators cannot experiment and learn the system.

Further, in highly automated systems the operator will not always have an accurate assessment of the current situation because his or her situation assessment is not continuously updated.

I have a fishing example of this. I occasionally (but rarely) go fishing in the marshes near Lafitte, Louisiana, south of New Orleans. I don’t know the area well, but I have a map. If I keep track of my movement, I always know where I am and can easily recognize features on the map. If/when I get lazy and just motor around, then I find the map almost useless. I can no longer match geographical features to the map. Every point of land in the marsh looks much like every other point.

Control Algorithm
Whether the controller is human or automated, it contains an algorithm that determines/guides its actions. It is useful to consider the properties of a typical automated loop. Most industrial control loops are  proportional-integral-derivative (PID) loops. A PID controller has three functions:

  • Proportional action. Takes action proportional to the error (difference between the measured variable and the set point); small errors yields minor valve movements; large errors yield large valve movements.
  • Integral action. Takes action proportional to the integral of the error. Here, a small error that has existed for a long time will generate a large valve movement.
  • Derivative. Takes action proportional to the derivative of the error. A rapidly changing error generates a large valve movement.

Tuning coefficients are provided for each action type. The appropriate tuning coefficients depend on the dynamics of the process being controlled. The process dynamics can be explained pretty well with three properties: process gain, dead time, and lag.

Process gain is the ratio of measured variable change to control valve position change. Lag is a measure of the time it takes the process to get to a new steady state. Dead time is the time between when the valve moves and the process variable begins to change.

Unsafe Control Causes
Control loops are complex and can result in unsafe operation in numerous ways, including: unsafe controller inputs; unsafe control algorithms, including inadequately tuned controllers; incorrect process models; inadequate actuators; and inadequate communication and coordination among controllers and decision makers.

STPA—A New Hazard Analysis Technique
The most widely used process hazard analysis technique is the HAZOP. The HAZOP uses guide words related to process conditions (flow, pressure, temperature, and level).

STPA guide words are based on a loss of control rather than physical parameter deviations .(Note that all causes of flow, pressure, temperature, and level deviation can be traced back to control failure.)

The STPA process is as follows:

  • Identify the potential for inadequate control of the system that could lead to a hazardous state.
    • A control action required for safety is not provided.
    • An unsafe control action is provided.
    • A control action is provided at the wrong time (too early, too late, out of sequence).
    • A control action is stopped too early or applied too long.
  • Determine how each potentially hazardous control action could occur.
    • For each potentially hazardous control action examine the parts of the control loop to see if they could cause it.
      • Design controls and mitigation measurements if they do not already exist
      • For multiple controllers of the same component or safety constraint, identify conflicts and potential coordination problems.
    • Consider how the controls could degrade over time and build in protection such as
      • Management of change procedures
      • Performance audits where the assumptions underlying the hazard analysis are such that unplanned changes that violate the safety constraint can be detected
      • Accident and incident analysis to trace anomalies to the hazard and to the system design

Safety-Guided Design
Hazard analysis is often done after the major design decisions have been made. STPA can be used in a proactive way to guide design and system development.

The Safety-Guided Process

  • Try to eliminate the hazard from the conceptual design.
  • For hazards that cannot be eliminated, identify potential for their control at the system level.
  • Create a system control structure and assign responsibilities for enforcing safety constraints.
  • Refine the constraints and design in parallel
    • Identify potentially hazardous control actions of each system component and restate the hazard control actions as component design constraints.
    • Determine factors that could lead to a violation of the safety constraints.
    • Augment the basic design to eliminate potentially unsafe control actions or behaviors.
    • Iterate over the process (perform STPA Steps 1 and 2) on the new augmented design until all hazardous scenarios have been eliminated, mitigated, or controlled.

An example of a safety-guided process is the thermal tile processing system for the Space Shuttle. Heat-resistant tiles of various types covered the shuttle. The lower surfaces were covered with silica tiles. They were 95% air, capable of absorbing water, and had to be waterproofed. The task was accomplished by injecting the hazardous chemical  dimethylethoxysilane (DMES) into each tile. Workers wore heavy suits and respirators. The tiles also had to be inspected for scratches, cracks, gouges, discoloring, and erosion.

This section is a partial/truncated application of Safety Guided Design to the design of a robot for tile inspection and waterproofing.

Safety-guided design starts with identifying the high-level goals:

  • Inspect the tiles for damage caused by launch, reentry. and transport.
  • Apply waterproofing chemical to the tiles.

Next, identify the environmental constraints:

  • Work areas can be very crowded.
  • With the exception of jack stands holding up the shuttle, the floor space is clear.
  • Entry door is 42-in. wide.
  • Structural beams are as low as 1.75 m.
  • Tiles are at 2.9- to 4-m elevation.
  • Robot must negotiate the crowded space.

Other constraints:

  • Must not negatively impact the launch schedule.
  • Maintenance cost must be less than x.

To get started, a general system architecture must be selected. Let’s assume that a mobile base with a manipulator arm is selected. Because many hazards will be associated with robot movement, a human operator is selected to control robot movement and an automated control system will control nonmovement activities.

The design has two controllers, so coordination problems will have to be considered.

Step 1: Identify potentially hazardous control actions.

Hazard 1: Robot becomes unstable. Potential Solution 1 is to make the base heavy enough to prevent instability. This is rejected because the heavy base will increase the damage if the robot runs into something. Potential Solution 2 is to make the base wide. This is rejected because it violates the environmental constraints on space. Potential Solution 3 is to use lateral stabilizer legs.

However, the stabilizer legs generate additional hazards that must be translated into design constraints such as the leg controller must ensure that the legs are fully extended before the arm movements are enabled; the leg controller must not command a retraction unless the stabilizer arm is in the fully stowed position; and the leg controller must not stop leg extension until they are fully extended.

These constraints may be enforced by physical interlocks or human procedures.

Summary and Conclusion
Leveson argues that our standard accident model does not adequately capture the complexity of our projects. Her proposed solution sensibly addresses the flaws that she has noted.

Viewing safety as a control problem resonates with me. All or almost all of the hazard causes that we discover in HAZOPs are control-system-related, yet the HAZOP method does not focus explicitly on control systems. And control between levels of the hierarchy is generally not considered at all in process hazard analyses.

I am particularly attracted to the ability to apply STPA during project design, as opposed to other process hazard analysis techniques that can only be applied to a completed design.

Leveson, N. 2012. Engineering a Safer World, Systems Thinking Applied to Safety. MIT Press.

Mitchell, M. 2009. Complexity, A Guided Tour. Oxford University Press.

Howard Duhon is the systems engineering manager at GATE and the former SPE technical director of Projects, Facilities, and Construction. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Oil and Gas Facilities. He may be reached at hduhon@gateinc.com.