Exclusive Content
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.

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.