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14 Aug 2017

Building Relationships With a Marginalized Community in Iraq

A consortium of international and national Iraqi oil and gas companies took operatorship of the Qarmat Ali water-treatment plant, which is critical for oil production, in southern Iraq in 2013. Because of community protests, operations shut down for 6 months as the consortium strived to find the best way to work with the community. This paper explores how the consortium achieved success through engagement and by responding to community expectations for social investment while addressing the social effects of operations.

The Rumaila oil field in southern Iraq southwest of Basra is the country’s largest producing oil field, accounting for more than 40% of Iraq’s budget revenues. Since 2009, Iraq’s state-owned South Oil Company has engaged an international consortium of oil and gas companies together with the State Oil Marketing Organization of Iraq through a technical service contract to operate and modernize the oil field.

For the Rumaila oil field to continue producing 1.4 million BOPD, the consortium needs to inject more than 2 million BWPD by 2025. In 2013, the consortium began the refurbishment and expansion of the Qarmat Ali industrial water-treatment plant, a critical facility for injecting industrial water into the Rumaila oil field and thereby maintaining production.

From the start, a historically marginalized adjacent community, accustomed to using force to raise concerns, continued to use force to react to construction work at Qarmat Ali. Construction was interrupted frequently by stand-downs, gunfire, rock throwing, violence, and intimidation. After months of strained community relations, construction was shut down for 6 months. With government representatives lacking community support and local security forces providing inadequate protection, management considered abandoning refurbishment and expansion work.

To support the information-gathering process and begin the development of a new community-relations plan, the consortium commissioned a nongovernmental organization to gather data on baseline conditions in Qarmat Ali, undertaking 500 household interviews to provide a representative and diverse perspective on the thoughts, opinions, and recommendations of the community.

The AMAR International Charitable Foundation was selected to spearhead a study because of its 20-year legacy of supporting vulnerable populations in southern Iraq and reliance on trained local staff to provide an understanding of the local context and needs of the community.

On the first day of the study, in-­country staff were threatened with firearms. It is a testament to their professionalism and expertise that they were able to move past this barrier and sit down with and start listening to the community. This initial step fostered respect and goodwill and allowed re-engagement to start. This study identified a number of challenges as possible conflict triggers:

  • Qarmat Ali is an impoverished fence-line community of 5,226 people, made up of a wide range of tribes displaced by the draining of the Iraqi marshes in the 1990s. Given their experience of resettlement and insecurities of land ownership, community members felt wary of all outsiders.
  • Basic household conditions are extremely poor, made worse by social marginalization. The community survey found some of the lowest levels in the region for literacy (38%), employment (21%), and access to potable water (17%).
  • Weapons are commonplace in the community, and any incident can become dangerous quickly.

Having assessed the local context, the consortium’s primary goal was to respond to community expectations for social investment while addressing the social effects of operations and avoiding past problems arising from violence and threats.

Following numerous discussions with the Iraqi minister of oil and the governor of Basra, a community committee was established with representatives from the government, civil society, and the consortium to identify the challenges facing local people and address expectations as to what benefits realistically could be delivered to the community.

In October 2014, following weeks of intensive negotiations, the consortium brokered an agreement with the local sheikhs, allowing the consortium to return to work. The consortium’s first commitment was to facilitate a large stakeholder conference with local sheikhs and council members to build relationships and allow local leaders to share their vision of development.

While other oil fields in southern Iraq have struggled to implement social-­investment projects and regularly face demonstrations, not a single day of work at Qarmat Ali has been lost to community disruptions since the first community committee meeting.

The community committee has identified and delivered a range of community projects including healthcare, education, potable water, road infrastructure, and gender equality. Highlights of the partnership’s contributions to community-driven development include

  • Rehabilitating 3.7 km of road to Qarmat Ali, providing a greatly improved transport link, cutting journey times, and reducing road traffic accidents
  • Supporting the provision of quality healthcare with construction of a health clinic for a 10,000-person catchment and new mother and child health services
  • Empowering women as community health advocates to deliver health messaging and influence health-seeking behavior through more than 40,000 household visits
  • Investing in water infrastructure to improve access to safe water for 1,000 households, which previously spent up to 50% of their income on potable water
  • Managing a women’s center for training and technical expertise for more than 300 women, creating income through women-entrepreneur crafts and other livelihoods
  • Training for literacy and vocation skills and work placements for 43 unemployed community members

Case Studies
To contribute to rebuilding trust and to demonstrate how it could improve lives if the parties worked constructively, the community committee initially identified a quick-impact project to refurbish local schools.

The project provided a way to open doors and engage with the community, but, in the medium term, the aim was to develop strategic, long-term, social-­investment projects that aligned business objectives with government priorities and community needs.

Case Study 1: Road Infrastructure. A strategic issue for the business was road safety. The community has long been affected by the poor condition of their main access road shared with the industrial water-treatment plant. With road accidents being the main cause of death within the oil and gas industry and one of the more significant causes of in­juries and fatalities among members of the public worldwide, in 2014, a road infrastructure project was implemented to help share the road safely with the community.

Knowing that a new road was a strong wish of local residents, the community committee agreed on the project with local sheikhs and assisted with the acquisition of permits and permissions for the work from government departments.

The 3.7-km road was completed in just 3 months, minimizing the disruption to local residents caused by construction dust and diversions.

The success of the community committee in promoting community development alongside business objectives was especially evident at the road-opening ceremony where provincial government and local council representatives, local sheikhs, community members, and the consortium were all in attendance.

Case Study 2: Gender Equality. A strategic issue for the business was the potential effect of latent conflict on operations, with large groups of unemployed youth with nothing to do. Women were identified as one stakeholder group able to influence youth behavior positively. In 2015, a gender-equality project was implemented that addressed the challenge that women experience fewer benefits from oilfield operations than men.

A community center for women was set up and has trained 336 women in subjects including basic literacy, sewing, handicrafts, and hairdressing. Female heads of households, widows, and women living in poverty were targeted. Business skills combined with free childcare enabled many marginalized women to set up their own businesses.

Twenty women’s volunteers, selected from low-income families, were also trained as community health advocates, making weekly household visits in Qarmat Ali to promote healthier lifestyles and build trust in local health services. To date, these volunteers have made 41,600 visits.

Challenges and Innovation
The consortium, with its strong commitment to adhere to international good practice to create a successful strategic social-investment portfolio, faced a number of challenges:

  • The consortium did not have a secure budget for projects, with all expenditure needing to be approved by the state-owned South Oil Company.
  • The business case for strategic social investment was not always clear, with the community tending to focus its needs on infrastructural projects.
  • The fragmented tribal nature of the community led to parochial requests that would only have benefited specific sections and not the community as a whole.
  • Given the seniority of committee members on the community committee, they had other commitments and responsibilities that they naturally had to deal with in addition to their assistance and support for this work.
  • A clear exit strategy for each project, to ensure that positive effects could be sustained, was not always evident with limited government capacity and budgets.

The consortium’s solution to these challenges was to create a sustainable development partnership with one of the more marginalized communities in Iraq, which had a transformative effect on operator/community relations and community well-being. The community committee, with representatives from the government, civil society, and the consortium, embedded creativity and originality into the partnership by

  • Supporting a multistakeholder process for the community to get involved in local development discussions
  • Building a stronger cooperative relationship between the government and community, promoting the legitimacy of government by aligning government priorities with local needs
  • Avoiding intracommunity jealousy or fragmentation by bringing all community stakeholders to the table for local development dialogue
  • Helping the community distinguish between local development issues and those related to operations and providing a means to resolve grievances
  • Ensuring a solid agreement on the roles and responsibilities of each partner for each community project before budget approval was sought
  • Involving the South Oil Company in the partnership and in all aspects of decision making to ensure a secure budget for community projects
  • Enabling the process to be community and government driven, while ensuring that oversight for community projects remains with the consortium

Business Outcomes
Since the agreement, partners have trusted each other to deliver on respective obligations, resulting in the following clear, positive business outcomes:

  • USD 5.44 million of community development projects were identified and implemented in line with government priorities.
  • No significant community disturbances and not one day of work stoppage occurred at the industrial water-treatment plant.
  • Because of increased industrial water injection, oil production in northern Rumaila has increased from 500,000 to more than 700,000 B/D.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 183110, “To the Edge and Back: Building Relationships With a Marginalized Community in Iraq,” by Ilya Bourtman, BP; Hassan Al-Mudhaffar, Christopher Boyd, and Brendhan Skerritt, Rumaila Operating Organization; and Nicholas Abrahams, SPE, Social Risk Strategy, prepared for the 2016 Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, Abu Dhabi, 7–10 November. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

14 Aug 2017

Risk Assessment of Fluid Migration Into Freshwater Aquifers in Colorado Basins

Wellbore-construction methods, especially casing-and-cementing practices for the protection of freshwater aquifers, have been reviewed in the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins in Colorado. The assessment confirms that natural-gas migration occurs infrequently but can happen from poorly constructed wellbores. Analysis confirmed no occurrence of hydraulic-fracturing-fluid contamination. The significance of these results is to help quantify the risks associated with natural-gas development as related to the contamination of surface aquifers.

The prevention of contamination of freshwater aquifers has been a prime concern in drilling operations since the inception of drilling. Surface casing has long been the primary barrier to prevent contamination of freshwater aquifers through wellbores. The probability of leakage into aquifers from wellbores during shale development has a wide range of estimates, complicated by the presence of hydrocarbons at shallow depths in many parts of the world. An earlier paper reviewed the process and outcomes of a study for the Wattenberg Field in the Denver-Julesberg Basin. This study continues the examination of the contamination of aquifers in the subsurface during the completion and the production phases of the well and quantifies the risk of contamination of aquifers through failure of the wellbore for three other major basins in Colorado, the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins. This synopsis focuses on the assessment of the Piceance Basin.

Barrier Definition. Common vertical, deviated, and horizontal subsurface wellbore-barrier designs were grouped and ranked on the basis of the risk of multiple barrier failures (Fig. 1). For the sake of clarity, pressure monitoring of the casing annulus [surface annulus pressure (SAP)] was not assumed to be an additional barrier during the production phase even though it is frequent and often required by state regulations.

Fig. 1—Wellbore-barrier categories ranked from highest risk to lowest risk.

Well-barrier designs can vary from field to field depending on geology, trajectory, depths, anticipated pressures, expected hydraulic-treatment rates, and estimated production rates. Whether a well is horizontal, vertical, or deviated has no significance with respect to the ultimate protection of freshwater aquifers because the wells are designed to protect the shallow vertical section of each oil and gas well. Multiple barriers must be in place near the depth of the freshwater aquifer to prevent breaching of a single barrier potentially leading to contamination.

Failure Definition. This study defines two types of barrier failure—potential barrier failures and catastrophic barrier failures.

Potential barrier failures are the breakdown of a single or multiple barriers in a wellbore that did not result in the contamination of freshwater aquifers or surface soil from hydrocarbon or fracturing-fluid migration but required remediation of the failed barrier to further enhance the nested barrier system of the well.

Catastrophic barrier failures are the breakdown of a combination of various wellbore barriers (casing, cement, and hydrostatic pressure of annular fluids) protecting freshwater aquifers during hydraulic fracturing or production phases resulting in the contamination of freshwater aquifers or surface soil.

Risk Assessment of Oil and Gas Wells in the Piceance Basin
The Piceance Basin underlies western Colorado. Garfield County comprises the core of oil and gas exploration for the Piceance Basin in Colorado and is the focus of this study.

The first exploratory drilling operations were started in 1935; however, ­concentrated oil and gas exploration of the field did not begin until 2000. Wells are drilled to depths of 6,000–8,000 ft subsurface.

Horizontal wells began around 2008, but horizontal-drilling activity is negligible compared with the vertical- and deviated-well counts because of the complexity of drilling a horizontal well at increased depths of 10,000- to 12,500-ft true vertical depth. Wells in the Piceance Basin are subject to higher corrosion rates because of elevated levels of total dissolved solids (TDS) in the produced water and the presence of corrosive gas. In addition, cementing wells can be problematical because of fracturing in the Wasatch Group, which is above the Williams Fork Formation target zone. The Wasatch Group is composed of interbedded shale and sandstone and is highly fractured because of structural alterations and thermogenic gas migration from the underlying Williams Fork Formation.

Piceance Basin Water Sourcing. A defined geologic boundary between freshwater aquifers and deeper hydrocarbon formations is not present in Garfield County. Water is sourced from surface water, unconsolidated alluvial aquifers that are shallower than 60 ft subsurface, and deeper water wells that source fresh water from bedrock in the Wasatch Group at maximum depths of 600 ft.

The Wasatch Group has evidence of natural fractures that can act as a conduit to shallower depths from deeper and more-mature hydrocarbon deposits. The deepest water wells in Garfield County are drilled to 600 ft, sourcing water from the Wasatch Group. Water wells that are drilled into the bedrock of the Wasatch Group have the potential to test positive for thermogenic gas without any offset oil and gas wells contributing to thermogenic gas migration to the aquifer. It is challenging to ascertain the origin of thermogenic gas that appears in water wells, because of the complexity of the underlying strata in Garfield County.

Piceance Basin Data Sourcing and Assumptions. Oil- and gas-well data were collected for 10,998 wells completed between 1935 and mid-2014 in Garfield County. Shallow surface-casing-setting depth was defined as a depth less than the deepest water well in the field at 600 ft.

Potential barrier failures were defined as any cement remediation performed on the production casing, intermediate casing, or surface casing or as presence of SAP.

Catastrophic barrier failures were defined as wells that had barrier failures that directly caused a conduit for hydrocarbon migration to freshwater aquifers of the upper Wasatch Group or to alluvial aquifers at shallow depths, which was corroborated by isotopic and compositional analysis from an offset water well.

Piceance Basin Potential and Catastrophic Barrier Failures. All wells were categorized on the basis of their original casing and cement. Potential barrier failures were identified by any cement remediation of any casing string or by evidence of SAP. Potential barrier failures were identified in 377 of 10,842 originally producing wells in Garfield County. Category 8 wells had the highest potential-barrier-failure rate of 30.00%, occurring in 18 of 60 wells. Even though this design has deep surface casing and an intermediate-casing string, the top of the production-­casing cement was not above the top of gas. Higher-risk Category 2 wells had an 8.33% potential-barrier-failure rate, occurring on four of 48 wells, followed by Category 5 wells, which had a 6.99% potential-barrier-failure rate, occurring in 125 of 1,789 wells. This design has deep surface casing, but the top of the production-­casing cement was not above the top of gas.

Categories 6 and 7 (lower risk) had lower potential-barrier-failure rates of 2.33 and 3.01%, respectively. Even though these wells had production-­casing-cement tops above the top of gas, they demonstrate the challenging geologic conditions that are present in the Wasatch Group, confirming the difficulty in creating effective production-casing-cement isolation and indicating challenges in preventing SAP from shallow hydrocarbon deposits.

Higher concentrations of potential barrier failures occurred near the core of oil and gas exploration. Of wells that were originally completed in 2003, 18% had potential barrier failures, which represents the most potential barrier failures for wells completed in a calendar year.

The higher potential-barrier-failure rates experienced for lower-risk wellbore-barrier designs in the field are because of corrosion or ineffective cement coverage behind the casing strings. High carbon dioxide (CO2) mole fraction and higher relative TDS from the produced water can lead to corrosion of the carbon-steel pipe wall if untreated. Proper treatment of this corrosion potential is needed to prevent casing leaks and deterioration of the pipe wall.

Nine of 10,842 originally producing wells were identified as having catastrophic barrier failures related to hydrocarbon migration to freshwater aquifers in the Piceance Basin. All nine wells had experienced high SAP before thermogenic gas detection in offset water wells. No evidence of hydraulic-fracturing-fluid migration to freshwater aquifers or surface soil was found.

Catastrophic barrier failures occurred in two Category 3 wells, two Category 5 wells, four Category 6 wells, and one Category 7 well. Seven catastrophic barrier failures occurred on wells that had the top of production-casing cement above the top of gas in the basin. This demonstrates the challenges in effectively isolating shallow gas shows in the Wasatch Group and the challenges of higher carbon-steel corrosion rates and of annular-hydrostatic-pressure barriers in the field.

Catastrophic-barrier-failure rates were observed to be common in moderate- to low-risk wellbore-barrier designs because of the challenges of combating corrosion of the production casing, of effectively isolating hydrocarbon migration with cement in the casing annulus, and of creating effective annular hydrostatic barriers at shallow depths. No evidence of fracturing-fluid migration to freshwater aquifers was detected in the study. Formations that are hydraulically stimulated are at depths greater than 4,000 ft subsurface. Even with the highly fractured nature of the Wasatch Group above the top of the Williams Fork Formation, it still acts as a solid geologic barrier, preventing vertical growth of artificially stimulated fractures to freshwater strata.

Piceance Basin Existing Conditions. Six percent, or 602, of the 10,507 existing producing or shut-in wells in Garfield County currently have shallow surface-casing-setting depths in relation to the deepest water well drilled in the county. Of these 602 wells, 143 currently have higher-risk Category 2 and 3 well-barrier designs. These designs do not have the top of production-casing cement above the surface-casing shoe.

Of wells in the sample, 3.48% experienced SAP, had cement remediation, or had a combination of both. This higher potential-failure rate relative to the Wattenberg Field is explained by the shallow gas shows from the Wasatch Group, the difficulty in eliminating shallow gas shows with effective cement coverage, and higher rates of corrosion of the production casing because of the relatively higher TDS from the produced water and higher mole percent CO2 in the produced gas. In order to isolate annular migration, it is recommend-ed that operators extend production-casing cement above the preceding casing shoe and routinely perform chemical batch treatment of wells to reduce the effects of corrosion of the pipe walls.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 181680, “A Continued Assessment of the Risk of Migration of Hydrocarbons or Fracturing Fluids Into Freshwater Aquifers in the Piceance, Raton, and San Juan Basins of Colorado,” by C.H. Stone, SPE, A.W. Eustes, SPE, and W.W. Fleckenstein, SPE, Colorado School of Mines, prepared for the 2016 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dubai, 26–28 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

14 Aug 2017

Robot Removes Operators From Extreme Environments

Robots have the potential to move human operators away from uncomfortable, potentially risky environments and into comfortable, safe control rooms. Remotely operated vehicles have already achieved this for subsea fields; however, before this approach can be extended to surface facilities, the robots must be reliable and safe in potentially explosive environments. The Sensabot robot has addressed these challenges and could be the foundation on which future generations of robots are built.

In 2010, a technology plan was prepared that focused on the specific challenges facing projects in the Kashagan Field in Kazakhstan:

  • Climatic temperatures typically ranging from –25°C to +35°C
  • High hydrogen sulfide concentrations in produced gas
  • Raw-gas-injection pressures as high as 690 bara
  • Ice-bound unmanned artificial islands in the winter

These challenges require operators to wear breathing apparatuses and cumbersome insulated clothing in winter that hampers their movement. In summer, the breathing apparatus creates the risk of heat exhaustion.

One contribution to the technology plan was the concept of remotely operated robots. These could remain permanently on location and could be driven by operators located in a safe environment.

The Robot Concept
The first stage of the Sensabot project was to identify the robot’s high-level functional requirements. These fall into three categories: user acceptance, safety, and independence.

User Acceptance. The project team recognized that, although the upstream oil and gas industry has been using remotely operated vehicles for many years in subsea environments, there has been little significant use of robots for surface facilities. The team felt that onshore operators would view the robot with suspicion, so it needed to work reliably to build confidence. By simplifying its functional requirements, the project team could focus on fewer features and decrease the risk of failures.

In this context, it was decided to focus on simple sensing tasks rather than the manipulation of items such as valves and switches. Therefore, Sensabot was designed to perform daily operator inspections of the plant. It was equipped with a range of sensors that replicated those of a human operator (Fig. 1): cameras (sight), gas detectors (smell), a vibration detector (touch), and a microphone (­hearing). Later in the development, a thermal ­imaging camera was added.

Fig. 1—Sensors on the Sensabot.

Another important design decision was to minimize the amount of automation. Sensabot was not designed to eliminate the need for human operators, just to relocate them to a safe and comfortable environment.

Finally, Sensabot was designed to work on plants that have been designed for human operators. Sensabot was scaled to mimic humans (Fig. 2) and to navigate 1-m-wide corridors with 90° corners. This also gave Kashagan management the comfort of knowing that, should Sensabot fail to perform, human operators could readily take over its tasks.

Safety. The overriding safety requirement is that Sensabot should be able to operate in oil and gas environments. In this respect, the project team set its most demanding requirement. Although Sensabot will usually be operating in Zone 2 and explosion-safe environments, it is being certified for International Electrotechnical Commission—Explosive (IECEx) Zone 1 IIB environments (hydrocarbon gas will be present or can be expected to be present for long periods of time under normal operating conditions).

Fig. 2—Sensabot Mark 2 design.

Independence. When establishing the user requirements, it was recognized that there was no point in removing oilfield operators from the field if the robot required frequent maintenance interventions. Therefore, the design goal from the outset has been that Sensabot should operate for at least 6 months without human intervention.

In addition to its reliability, Sensabot needed to be charged while on location. Therefore, an integral part of the robot system is its kennel. The kennel is sufficiently robust to protect Sensabot during transport. Once on location, the kennel is plugged into a 110/240-V power supply. When Sensabot docks in the kennel, a charging connector engages and the operator can switch on the power to charge the batteries for the next mission. The batteries are specified for 3 km of driving, navigating 40 m of rise and fall, and performing 4 hours of sensing operations between recharges.

Challenges and Solutions
IECEx Certification. Conventionally, IECEx certification for explosive environments is applied to simple stationary instruments or containers. However, Sensabot contains 19 different assemblies that need to be certified, 43 in total if duplication is included.

Sensabot Mark 1 attempted to tackle this complexity by installing the majority of these assemblies in an overpressured body. However, this presented a number of technical challenges: The kennel needed to replenish the internal air pressure automatically, the pressure-control valve proved to be unreliable, and leakages around the body’s seals meant that the operational life between replenishing pressure was too short.

Another solution was to use already available certified assemblies. However, because of Sensabot’s small space envelope, most of these were too large.

The approach that was eventually adopted for Sensabot Mark 2 was to design customized assemblies that could be certified individually. This means that the certification process is far more complex than the norm, especially because each assembly must be certified across Sensabot’s full operating range.

Wireless Communications. The wireless link between the robot and its driver is critical if Sensabot is to operate effectively.

Sensabot Mark 1 was designed to operate using a conventional WiFi system similar to that in homes. However, modeling and trials revealed that a large number of WiFi access points would be required to cover even a small production island. More seriously, because of the way WiFi works, the signal to the robot would often be lost when a handoff ­occurred between access points.

A range of alternative wireless networks was evaluated, and the conclusion was that 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks offered the best solution. While LTE has less bandwidth available per radio than WiFi, it has more than enough to operate Sensabot and an extensive ­network of other wireless instruments. Also, signal loss is progressive and gradual, so, if the driver sees that Sensabot is entering an area with a weak signal, the operator can reverse away ­before the signal is lost.

Sensabot Mark 2 is equipped with both WiFi for small-scale demonstrations and 4G LTE for full operational deployments.

Current Status
Functionality. Sensabot Mark 1 underwent a series of trials in Houston in early 2011. Overall, the trials were a success, with Sensabot proving easy to drive even for inexperienced operators. It performed a wide variety of inspections and traveled many kilometers around the plant, accessing elevated platforms and navigating dark rooms.

However, a number of design weaknesses were identified that have influenced the design of Sensabot Mark 2. In addition to the move away from an overpressured body and the shift toward 4G LTE wireless,

  • Solid tires were replaced with pneumatic tires. These are less prone to wear on metal grids, create less vibration when driving over rough surfaces, and provide better traction across a wide range of surfaces.
  • A move was made from the use of light detection and ranging to stereo cameras to map the surrounding terrain. This is an advantage for Sensabot because stereo cameras can create complex 3D models of the environment that may eventually allow Sensabot to operate with more autonomy. They also can be programmed to detect drops and to intervene before the operator drives over one.
  • A thermal imaging camera was added.
  • Maximum speed was increased from 5 to 7 km/h.

Future Opportunities
Deployment and Benefits. Once Sensabot Mark 2 is certified, the plan is to deploy it at an upstream production facility. Ultimately, the intention is to install the wireless network, kennel, and Sensabot at an unmanned location where Sensabot can fulfill its full potential. However, in the short term, it needs to be tested and proved with a minimum of disruption. Therefore, the entire system, including the control panel, is being built into a shipping container.

Once the container is on location and plugged into a power supply, the system is ready to operate. This minimizes the effect on busy oilfield operators in the early stages of deployment.

Enhanced Functionality. As the project has developed, it has become clear that the components and principles that make up Sensabot could be combined in a variety of packages to suit a range of tasks and operating environments.

For example, as an offshoot of the development program, a manipulation arm was developed and demonstrated. It performed a range of tasks including operating valves and electrical switches. In this respect, it has one major advantage over remotely operated vehicles in that it has massive inertia, a result of its 450-kg mass and low center of gravity. This means it can operate heavy-duty oilfield equipment without special reactive tooling.

Finally, it is entirely plausible that a higher degree of autonomy could be incorporated into Sensabot Mark 2 and future robot generations. An early target will be the incorporation of collision avoidance. Other simple ideas include self-navigation from the kennel to the operational location, auto-reversing in the event of wireless-signal loss, and auto-diagnosis of the sensing data with alarms to alert the operator in the event of anomalies.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 181409, “A Robot That Removes Operators From Extreme Environments,” by Ian Peerless, SPE, IPKA Consultancy, and Adam Serblowski and Berry Mulder, Shell Global Solutions International, prepared for the 2016 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dubai, 26–28 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

14 Aug 2017

Company’s Integrated Approach Tackles Fatigue Management

In an effort to establish practical solutions to fatigue-related risk, Petronas created a task force that included specialists, plant-operation personnel, shift supervisors, and information-technology (IT) team members. Discussions with stakeholders included a detailed review of the shift-manning procedure and work-process evaluation to address fatigue risks, and an analysis was performed to determine common issues that require further mitigation efforts. This paper describes the integrated approach taken by the company to reinforce effective management of fatigue.

Investigations into some of the worst industrial and environmental accidents have identified fatigue as a major contributor, although, in some of these cases, fatigue was not the only cause. Petronas has put in place a number of key controls to ensure that fatigue risks are managed accordingly at the workplace. These include a technical standard on management of fatigue, site procedures at operating units (e.g, shift-manning procedures, journey-management plans, and health-promotion programs), and audits to ensure compliance. Nonetheless, opportunities exist for improvement, particularly to reinforce the effective implementation of the program through integrated approaches that leverage IT and standardized work processes. Embedding fatigue management in day-to-day work processes is essential to achieve significant results in managing the risks.

Statement of Theory and Definitions
Fatigue is a progressive decline in ­alertness and performance caused by insufficient quality or quantity of sleep. This may result from extended work hours, overtime, shift work, insufficient opportunities for sleep, or the effects of sleep disorders or medical conditions that reduce sleep or increase sleepiness. Fatigue affects the ability to assess risk, increases willingness to accept risk, and decreases the ability to maintain attention. When fatigued, people find it more difficult to divide their attention adequately between multiple tasks and to plan for future actions. ­Fatigued people are more likely to suffer lapses in concentration and are more easily distracted from the task at hand. The more tired people become, the more likely they are to cut corners and to accept lower standards in accuracy and performance.

Fatigue contributes to accidents by impairing performance and, at the extreme end of the scale, by causing people to fall asleep while working. Human error resulting from fatigue is now widely acknowledged as the cause of numerous workplace disasters. Many disasters began with initial difficulties such as technical faults, but, because of fatigue, the operators did not manage the situation adequately, allowing the situation to escalate to an accident.

The company’s fatigue-management program (FMP) includes the following key activities:

  • Fatigue risk assessment at site
  • Establishment of a procedure to implement the FMP for the identified work groups
  • Implementation of the FMP for the identified work group or the group at risk, which includes
    • A review of manpower planning
    • Controls of workplace fatigue
    • Training and communication
    • Monitoring
    • Periodic review
  • The establishment and implementation of an assurance program
  • Incident investigations
  • Record keeping

Description and Application of Equipment and Processes
The main objective of the intervention is to develop a fit-for-purpose and effective fatigue-management program, structure, and system for practical use. In addition, the process enhances awareness of the importance of fatigue management among employees. The intervention will be able to deliver a more-effective FMP for the company.

Key deliverables were identified, including the development of a standardized work process in managing shift work and fatigue and the development of communication materials with clear messages to reinforce the understanding of and actions in fatigue management for employees and supervisors. The messages formulated in the communication materials were simple in order to facilitate better understanding of the subject of fatigue and, most importantly, of actions required from employees to manage fatigue. The intervention also promoted the use of an IT tool in monitoring, and tracking compliance to, hours-of-service limits.

As part of an effort to establish guidelines for practical solutions to fatigue-related risk, a task force was formed that consisted of specialists, plant-­operation personnel, shift supervisors, and IT-team members, and a situational-analysis survey was conducted. Survey feedback included information regarding the availability of site procedures to manage fatigue at work, communication and training tools, compliance to hours-of-service limits, and monitoring and tracking of performance indicators. The study included group discussion with various stakeholders to obtain feedback on the implementation of the FMP and its challenges on-site. The discussion also included a detailed review of shift-manning procedure and evaluation of the work processes to address fatigue risks among shift workers during normal plant operation and during turnaround.

Data and Results
An analysis of the survey identified several areas for improvements (Fig. 1). Regarding site procedure, most of the operating units already had developed specific procedures for fatigue management. However, the procedures for fatigue management were not embedded in the day-to-day shift-manning procedures at some of the operating units. Communication tools related to fatigue management were available in most of the operating units; however, the survey revealed that the material lacked action-oriented messages regarding what employees were expected to do in order to mitigate fatigue risks.

Fig. 1—Results of fatigue-management survey. HSE=health, safety, and environment. KPI=key performance indicators.

More contract workers are present at the worksite during turnaround. Gate-access systems at entry points were available at most operating units to ensure compliance to hours-of-service limits. The systems enable the safety-management team to monitor and track the number of working days of each contract worker and automatically deny entry to those who have exceeded the hours-of-service limits.

Survey results revealed that the operating units require improvement in the work processes and systems used to monitor and track compliance to hours-of-service limits among shift workers. Key performance indicators for fatigue need to be established and monitored regularly.

One of the main outcomes of the survey was the development of communication materials that emphasize the risks of fatigue, the signs of fatigue, actions to be taken by employees and supervisors to mitigate fatigue risks, and compliance to hours-of-service limits. A 4-minute awareness video with attractive animation communicated a condensed version of all the important facts. The short video is suitable for use as part of a safety briefing package. Standard posters on fatigue awareness also were made available to reinforce the message on fatigue-risk mitigation.

A standardized work process was developed that embeds steps to be taken to address fatigue risks as part of shift-manning management. It clearly prescribes the roles and responsibilities of various parties involved in fatigue management during shifts and turnaround. The work process also provides guidance on the use of IT tools as a system for effective shift manning and fatigue management.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 185226, “Integrated Approach in Fatigue Management,” by M. Nizam Jemoin and Ahmad Khairi Abdullah, Petronas, prepared for the 2017 SPE Asia Pacific Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility Conference, Kuala Lumpur, 4–6 April. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

14 Aug 2017

Integrated Simulation Increases Efficiency of Deepwater Risk Management

As deepwater drilling moved into the dynamic-positioning (DP) era, many drilling contractors and operators lacked an evidence-based approach for identification of potential process-safety and well-control failure points. In an effort to better understand well issues, operational-procedure adequacy, well-control intervention practices, and human factors, a global offshore drilling contractor created a program of fully integrated deepwater-DP-drilling simulation exercises to scrutinize all critical aspects of deepwater well-control operations. The result is a proactive, behavior-based risk-management process.

A Sea Change in Drilling
Beginning in the early 2000s, offshore drilling experienced significant growth in demand. This increased demand, driven by rising commodity prices and the macro­economic phenomenon of rapid economic development in China and India, combined with enhanced technological developments enabling drilling in deeper water, led the industry into a new era.

With the move to deeper water and enhanced DP operations, the industry faced unprecedented demand for drilling units and, therefore, new personnel. In the early 2000s, more than 150 new deepwater mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) were under construction, creating a need for tens of thousands of new crew members. A sector that had historically hired frontline workers and grown them into drillers and managers over a period of years suddenly needed to hire thousands of new employees each year with virtually no time for them to learn on the job. In addition, both old and new crews were dealing with new technology, resulting in daunting training challenges. Many of the new crew members were going directly to the latest and most-complex rigs being built.

New Approach to Training Needed. The effect of all this change and innovation on crew development has been pronounced. Research indicates that technology-intensive systems require considerable operator and crew expertise for effective use. But drilling operations also require the wealth of tacit (undocumented) knowledge that many long-term drilling professionals possess. The older and newer generations do not necessarily share a mental model for tasks that require their collaboration, and any given task may itself involve hundreds of steps that have become automatic for people with long experience but that often have not been recorded because of the long-standing practice of on-the-job training.

While technical-skills training remains vitally important, teamwork and interdependence among drilling, DP, and power-management crews on DP MODUs remain critical to process safety. The merging of groups of professionals from these different disciplines into an integrated team capable of working collaboratively has become more important than ever. The company recognized that the most effective training programs for DP MODU operations must address both the individual technical skills and competencies and the human factors necessary for safe and efficient operations.

The challenge was to build an environment and process to bring this diverse group of skilled professionals together to work collaboratively toward the shared goals of delivering safe and efficient wells in deepwater settings. The goal was to make collaboration easier by reducing the potential for error and miscommunication; increasing operational efficiency; and customizing the design to match realistic equipment, well, and environmental drilling situations. Effective training of this caliber would translate into cost savings and safer operations. The company turned to immersive simulation environments to deliver this training.

Fig. 1—The drill-floor simulator replicates the rig design and equipment.

New Approach to Training Initiated. In 2010, the company obtained its first simulator. Created to support an entirely new rig design, the simulator was built to replicate rig drilling-control systems and rig floor layout exactly. The simulator is a fully immersive, theater-style driller’s cabin with two chairs featuring supervisory-control and data-­acquisition displays, closed-circuit-television screens, and choke and kill and blowout-preventer controls. The visual depiction of the drill floor was programmed to replicate the as-designed rig, including all original-equipment-­manufacturer-specific ­drilling-equipment functions (Fig. 1).

Training Designed To Address Human Factors. Significant documented support exists for the efficacy of using simulations in team training. Simulation exercises are effective in training for drilling operations for several reasons:

  • Time pressure is built into simulation. Time pressure is a key factor in drilling situations and a critical component affecting decision making. By contrast, the white board in the conference room conveys no sense of time or urgency, although it may serve well in presenting certain types of information or in leading a discussion.
  • Simulation is an efficient method of training because various activities are integrated throughout the exercise rather than being presented separately and stitched together in other formats.
  • In a simulation, it is possible to create scenarios concerning a specific problem.
  • A simulation is likely to be preferable for action-oriented, hands-on people.
  • Because it replicates the many simultaneous actions, reactions, and interactions that occur in both normal and crisis operations, a simulation presents a better replication of those operations.
  • Debriefing provides a step back for participants to review actions and decisions and determine the best path to follow in future situations, to address team and behavioral issues, to redesign communications protocols, and to raise procedural issues.

Integrated Operations Exercises (IOE)
The IOE process was designed by the company to enhance safe and efficient performance. It was built around the three chief operating systems on a DP MODU—drilling, station keeping, and power management. These three systems are where the primary threats to process safety—loss of well control, loss of position, and loss of power—can occur. While the training center could simulate all three of these variables independently, the goal for IOE was to create a realistic whole-rig simulation where the threats and potential failures of major systems are interdependent.

The simulations are enhanced through the use of the sounds and ambience of typical day-to-day drilling, including machinery noise; distractions in which individuals are called away to attend to other duties; public-address announcements; mud-weight checks; and, importantly, intervals when little or nothing is changing, which create opportunities for boredom, complacency, and lack of vigilance.

The IOE simulation represented the best means to improve operational safety and efficiency. Evidence-based training gives the company a laboratory for observing critical operational procedures and human factors. Running the IOE internally several times revealed that the training model would be highly valuable for collaborative training with customers, making it an effective and efficient preoperations planning tool, augmenting or replacing the traditional “drill well on paper” with “drill well on simulator.”

Joint-IOE Results and Benefits
The joint IOE accelerated crew relationships and understanding of communication styles and expectations, correlating to improved well delivery. The actual-well performance reflected more-efficient work coordination; the well came in under budget and 19% faster than the estimated time frame. Nonproductive time was only 10.6%, and a high percentage of that was waiting on weather. The well was planned for 60 days; it was completed in 49 days. Operator management concluded that operational efficiency and performance were the result of better interaction and communication between the operator and company crews and managers.

Improvements in human-factors performance noted by the operator included better collaborative risk management, understanding personal communication and decision styles, and gaining a better understanding of individual-crew capabilities. The simulation exercise significantly reduced the learning-curve time for establishing planning, decision-­making, and risk-management prioritizations between the operator and the drilling contractor. Specifically, the exercise enabled the operator to understand how the rig manager, tool pusher, captain, and engineers work together. The process enabled the operator to see the competencies of the drilling-contractor crew under realistic scenarios. Further, the simulation exercise gave practical experience for the interface between the operator and the drilling-contractor crews.

The benefits of team training have been documented in a large body of research across industries and over time. Team training addresses behaviors and dynamics to effect good working relationships, enhanced situation awareness, streamlined communications, improved flexibility and adaptability, and better identification of human-factors issues that affect operations. Further, operational efficiencies and process safety are improved by allowing for better prewell planning and for human factors to be addressed. The results of the IOE further support the existing research in these areas.

The simulation exercise with integrated software provides a platform for the creation of new protocols. The training helps teams eliminate unnecessary steps in planning and related delays, resulting in shorter time to efficiency. Simulation increases operational safety and efficiency by promoting teamwork between key individuals while they are experiencing simulated system faults, failures, and well-control problems. In addition to uncovering possible technical issues, the training is used reliably to predict other areas of possible difficulty in actual operations.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 180351, “Deepwater Well Control: Integrated Simulation for Risk Management,” by Fritz Golding, Noble; John Spath,Talos Energy; and Bob Newhouse, Newhouse Consultants, prepared for the 2016 SPE Deepwater Drilling and Completions Conference, Galveston, Texas, USA, 14–15 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

14 Aug 2017

Company Integrates Human Factors Into Corporate Well-Control Manual

Many of the worst oilfield incidents have been attributable to human factors. Consequently, a corporate well-control manual was refreshed to include human factors in the management of well-control incidents. This required mapping the well-control process, assigning specific roles to personnel, and defining contingencies while acknowledging the effect human factors have on the personnel involved. The intention was not to create a rigid structure but rather to provide a framework to guide the front line in dealing with a well-control event.

The corporate well-control manual was updated to introduce human factors and consolidate a number of improvements. Numerous references were consulted, including other industry well-control documents, trade publications, and academic papers.

“Human factors” refers to technological, organizational, and job factors, as well as human and individual characteristics that affect how people perform a job. It includes the competence and behavior of personnel, the design and functionality of equipment, and organizational structure and support.

Why was it necessary to include human factors in something as fundamental as a well-control manual? Many diverse challenges are faced in well control, often involving multiple complex interfaces in a high-stress environment. Frequently, the problem is not fully understood, either. The challenges of decision making in such a pressured environment have been recognized in other industries, and they share many similar features.

The recognition in the drilling industry to include human-factors mitigation into emergency management and, specifically, well control was one of the outcomes of the Macondo disaster. Recognizing the importance of this, a Human Factors Task Force was established to identify improvements related to human factors and their contribution to such incidents. Training- and competence-assurance guidelines were issued, and objectives were set to provide a step change.

Human Factors in Well Control
Well control is often a stressful, high-risk situation, and it is important to understand the effect of how people perceive and react to a well-control situation.

Mental Traps. Managing a well-control situation is stressful, and a number of mental traps need to be dealt with for a successful outcome. These traps are common in situations similar to well-control incidents, and they increase under time pressure or when people become fatigued because of long periods of stress, both of which are experienced frequently in a well-control incident.

Cognitive Biases. A cognitive bias typically occurs when information is interpreted and an attempt is made to simplify complex information.

A cognitive bias may also be seen as a tendency to confirm some preconception or possibly discredit some information that does not support an entrenched view. Such biases have a major influence on the ability of both the individual and the team to understand what is happening during a well-control operation.

Situational Awareness. Situational awareness is understanding the current state of a system and anticipating future change. This is required to perform safely and efficiently, and it is crucial for good decision making and good leadership and for a team to work together to resolve well-control situations. Not considering situational awareness creates a higher risk of poor decision making.

Human factors become even more important when considering the way the drilling industry conducts business, especially in the current downturn market (e.g., short-term contracts, personnel with varying expertise changing out regularly, personnel with diverse cultures and backgrounds and unknown and varying levels of experience, nonstandardized methods, different management systems, regulations).

Clearly, it is essential to include ways to integrate human factors into the well-control-management process. The challenge was how to embed an esoteric concept in a simple, easy-to-use well-control reference document.

Human-Factors Approach to Incident Mitigation
Consideration for human factors in the design of systems is centered on the end user. Systems are designed to fit the physiological limitations of the people tasked with managing them. The design includes features that improve comfort and productivity, minimize errors, and minimize training time.

The problem faced when incorporating human-factors psychological phenomena with various management policies and procedures into a standard well-control manual was how to develop and integrate these into specific tasks and procedures and identify what training is required.

Implementing significant changes in how things are done in an industry generally resistant to change requires tact, education, and training. This is a continuous process achieved by integrating human factors into the well-control manual, integrating the well-control manual into training, and providing offshore well-control simulators.

Some of the key considerations used when developing the well-control-management process are

  • The well-control operation had to remain within the safety envelope at all times.
  • The well-control-management process needed toMitigate plans drifting in critical situations.
    • Help combat mental traps and human errors.
    • Encourage good situational awareness.
    • Facilitate nontechnical skills and help maintain correct decision making.
    • Facilitate good team resource use and provide better leadership overview.
    • Facilitate better communication.
    • Encourage team feedback.
    • Increase the ability to identify deviations from expected outcomes or trends.
    • Improve the team’s big-picture visibility and the individuals’ roles required to achieve it.
    • The process had to be rig friendly and ensure the buy-in of all stakeholders, including clients and other third-party vendors.
  • Once these were established, the next step was to map the well-control process using the following guidelines: what happens, who does what and when, what equipment will be involved, and what the expected outcome is.

Mapping the Well-Control Process
The approach taken in mapping the well-control process was to keep human factors central to the operation. It is not an add-on; rather, the entire process has been designed to incorporate human factors.

Mapping created the following phases:

  • Confirm the well is shut in; verify initial shut-in pressures and pit gain.
  • Monitor well continuously for anomalies.
  • Shut down other activities.
  • Gather logs and other relevant information.
  • Convene meeting by offshore-installation manager.
  • Discuss the well-control event, seeking assistance if necessary, and agree to kill the well.
  • Begin well kill as planned.
  • Monitor the kill against expectations; any deviation requires re-evaluation.

Well-Control Procedures. Mapping the well-control process provided a series of phases. To facilitate integration and adherence to these, it was essential to incorporate them into a series of easy-to-follow procedures. Steps were detailed with actions (what needs to be done), responsibilities (who does it), specific focus area (what equipment or procedure will be used), strategy and plan (how to do it), and comments.

Additional Strategies
Even the most-detailed procedures may be insufficient on their own to control a major risk such as a well-control incident. There are many other threats, and several additional tactics were incorporated to mitigate them.

Closed-Loop Communication. This is a communication technique used to avoid misunderstandings. The sender gives a message, the receiver repeats this back, and the sender confirms the message. Verbatim repeat-back, or closed-loop, communication is to be applied to all critical communication and will mitigate cognitive bias.

Devil’s Advocate. A devil’s advocate is someone who argues against an opinion not as a committed opponent but simply to determine its validity. It is incorporated to minimize the risk of developing normalization of deviance and groupthink. It will mitigate the tendency for cognitive bias.

Fingerprinting and Trending. Fingerprinting establishes baselines for various operations. It is common practice in certain wells and other challenging operations and is typically done inside the casing before drillout of the shoe. The practice, however, may be applied to any situation and should be encouraged in other operations. This assists in the identification of well-control incidents and other incidents. Fingerprinting and trending will improve situational awareness by providing a baseline to be measured against.

Understanding trends plays a crucial role in early kick detection and well control. It is in everyone’s interest to understand equipment and well behavior, to identify problems as early as possible. Trending against what “good” or a modeled “expected” looks like is a very powerful tool for identifying anomalies. Fingerprinting and trending coupled with “what does ‘good’ look like?” makes a powerful tool.

Forward Projection. Forward projection is establishing what a system should look like. This may take the form of computer modeling or just simple calculations. It defines what “good” and “bad” look like. It is impossible to know abnormal unless one knows normal.

Forward projection should mitigate situational awareness and will assist in mitigating cognitive bias.

Well-Control Pullout Pack. The Well-Control Pullout Pack is a folder containing up-to-date pertinent information for the well. This includes inter alia details on blowout-preventer and rig-equipment conditions and any outages, detailed well information, third-party-equipment information, kick sheets, mud and pit information, and shut-in and well-control details.

It is important to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information on the well and the rig is always available. The Well-Control Pullout Pack is designed to mitigate potential oversights, facilitate communication, and provide a checklist containing detailed information about the well, updated procedures, and the status of the rig and other equipment.

The well-control process has been mapped, and human-factor considerations were successfully integrated into policies and procedures.

This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 184648, “Integrating Human Factors Into Well Control,” by Jacob Odgaard, SPE, and Tim Morton, SPE, Maersk Drilling, prepared for the 2017 SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition, The Hague, 14–16 March. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

11 Aug 2017

Who’s Minding the Methane? Federal Emissions Rules in Flux, States and Industry Take the Reins

The volley of starts and stops aimed at the regulation of methane emissions from oil and gas wells continues. Although a federal appeals court temporarily thwarted the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) suspension of the regulations in early July, several states have formed an alliance to keep the ball rolling for the regulations. EPA’s most recent data show the industry has made significant strides in decreasing these emissions even with increased production. Gas well completions and workovers from hydraulic fracturing decreased methane emissions from venting and flaring by nearly 50% from 2014 to 2015.

Here’s a quick overview of what happened when, and where we are today.

A federal appeals court ruled on 3 July that the EPA cannot suspend the rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. This followed the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s issuance in May of a 90-day stay of the rule limiting fugitive methane emissions at drilling sites and setting standards for equipment and employee certification. He then extended the moratorium to 2 years on enforcement of parts of the 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the Oil and Gas Industry and asserted his action was not subject to court review.

Pruitt’s stay was issued after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order in March to repeal several climate regulations, including the methane emissions rules issued last year.

However, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit disagreed and said that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA did not have the authority to block the rule. The court contended that, by delaying the effective date, “such orders are tantamount to amending or revoking a rule.”

This means the EPA will have to revisit new rulemaking to change the 2016 NSPS.

Read the full story here.

8 Aug 2017

Gender Diversity: A Test for Leadership

Credit: Getty Images.

When scandals break out, the weaknesses of a corporate culture suddenly become very visible like cracks in a windshield.

Examples of such scandals are numerous:

  • The suicide of a young employee working for Dentsu Aegis Network who was literally drowning in work
  • The case of an executive from Uber who refused to believe that a woman customer had been raped by one of the company’s drivers and who sought to disprove her claim by obtaining her medical records
  • Allegations of sexual harassment against a former chief executive officer (CEO) of Fox News
  • The waves of suicides at Orange, the French telecommunications company

The problem always lies in the culture.

All studies looking at corporate culture show that the leaders’ commitment is an absolute prerequisite for openness and sound ethics in an organization. What better test for corporate culture than the integration of different genders at all levels? If a company is lagging behind on an issue as socially as important as gender diversity, then it is the leaders who are responsible for the lack of commitment, and they alone can address the problem.

Being against, or not being unequivocally for, gender diversity is a weak position for leaders who see themselves as visionary, innovative, and attuned to both the needs of their customers and employees.

The fact is that the progress made with regard to gender diversity in both large and small companies is really slow and the resistance is still felt at all levels, especially in management positions. Why?

We have to go back a bit in history in order to understand.

The Schlumberger Case
For a long time, companies and their leaders have encouraged the traditional model of the man going to work and the woman staying at home. In the business world, women who worked were assigned to support jobs and had low level of responsibilities compared to their qualifications. Women had very little opportunity to actually develop a career.

The Baby Boomers, of which I am one, studied in schools where boys and girls were segregated and girls were most of the time directed toward nontechnical and nonscientific subjects.

It was accepted that a woman sacrificed her personal ambition in order to support her husband’s career, typically when it was necessary to make a career move that often involved a house move as well or when children were born.

In the 1960s, 1970s, and even 1980s, a woman engineer or operations manager was an exception. Couples facing dual career challenges were rare. In the 1980s, a change was beginning to be felt. Big companies such as IBM and HP were beginning to implement diversity management practices. They were investing effort and money to respond to legal pressures (Equal Employment Act) and to improve their image.

My company, Schlumberger, in 1994, was ahead of the game in cultural diversity but nowhere in gender diversity. It was like a blind spot. We were a typical male company. Internal opinion surveys were showing serious weaknesses in listening to the employees and a strong tendency to communicate only top down. We were known for our lack of flexibility, and we used to say “anywhere, anytime, no choice” to describe the level of commitment to the job we were expecting from our field engineers.

Fifteen years later, Schlumberger was leading the industry in cultural and gender diversity and was held up as an example. It happened for simple reasons: The leadership was fully committed to it, starting with Euan D. Baird, our CEO during this period, and the women selected responded very well to the challenge.

We treated gender diversity as a business objective and were very clear on the basic principles. All management was engaged in the search for the best women candidates. Nobody was allowed to compromise performance standards to make gender diversity numbers look good. Women had to climb the ladders like men, and most of them started as field engineers because it was the best way to develop future managers.

As head of human resources, I was in charge of managing the integration of women into the world of oil platforms and their access to international careers. It was the beginning of a profound change in our corporate male culture that forced all of us, specifically our leaders and our human resources department, to become more open to the reality of a changing society.

In the very first days, we asked Benoîte Groult, a French writer who championed the advancement of women in society, to come and speak to women executives and engineers in our company. Her message was clear: The change would be very slow, the path full of pitfalls, but it was necessary to learn how to take advantage of the momentum and never let go, despite the setbacks. She reminded her audience that, as a young woman, she did not have the right to vote in France (the right for women to vote and to be elected was introduced in France on 21 April 1945).

Women recruited in the first years were wonderful pioneers. They adapted to field conditions that were not at that time ready for them (e.g., no women’s toilet or room in the rig). They impressed clients with their skills and their determination.

On the human resources front, we needed to integrate maternity leave and the concept of dual careers in our management of international careers where mobility played an important role. We had to become attentive to the conflicts between family life and work demand. This was not a typical attitude for traditionally male companies.

This change in thinking had a significant effect on leadership. We began discussing issues that had not been addressed previously but that had been very much present in people’s minds. As an example, we included women high performers on maternity leave in our stock option distribution to signal to them that we wanted them back. We issued dual career policies, and we included gender diversity results in our management by objectives. Men benefited tremendously from that change in culture. They became much more at ease about taking paternity leave, and they opened up about personal topics such as mobility issues.

Women today have reached all levels of responsibility. They have enjoyed an international career at the same time as being able to have a family. Men and women engaged in dual careers found a much more supportive corporate culture. Leaders and human resources managers became much more open and available to discuss these issues.

It was a deep cultural change and one that was badly needed. If we had not done it, our future today would be totally disconnected from our times.

Understanding the Resistance and Coping With It
In 2004, thanks to the reputation we earned, I was asked by the European Commission to lead a group of companies interested in better understanding the nature of resistance to changing the corporate culture, particularly in the scientific professions and in the business world. This became the Women in Science and Technology (WIST) project. Approximately 20 companies, representing several sectors, were in the group. A number of European universities were also involved. We worked on this project with researchers between 2004 and 2008, and, as practitioners, we realized the importance of researchers’ inputs in this domain.

The first conclusion we reached was that scientific disciplines in universities did not attract women for various reasons related either to preconceived ideas coming from parents and teachers or to the fact that universities simply did not go out of their way to attract women to these courses, thus, by omission, putting them off applying.

It needs to be said that the professors in these disciplines were and still are, for the most part, men. Changing this situation in universities was, and still is, vitally important. It is difficult for women to succeed in an industrial field such as engineering if they are not present right from the start. In an article published in The New York Times in 2013 and still available on the internet, Eileen Pollack accurately describes the subtle and numerous obstacles for women to enter a university course. In particular, a preconceived idea exists in certain academic circles that subjects such as physics or mathematics are not suitable for women. In France, the Grandes Ecoles d’Ingénieurs, which admit candidates based on national tests, have struggled to achieve their goal of 20% of students being women, and many have far fewer female students than this.

Part of the solution was to have more female professors in university science departments. We created, within the Schlumberger Foundation, the Faculty for the Future program in order to create more conducive conditions for women pursuing scientific careers. Any woman who becomes a Faculty for the Future Fellow is expected to return to her home country to pass on her acquired scientific and technical skills. The results have been very encouraging, with hundreds of women opting for a career in teaching science.

It will take time to change the culture at the top of universities and schools so that more women are encouraged to study science and technology and follow careers in these subjects. For the time being, the gap exists. As an example, 30% of the employees in a technology leading company such as Google are currently women, but only 17% of the engineers and developers are female.

Companies working with universities on this specific issue are helping to enlarge the talent pool of women in sciences and technology and are the first to have access to the best women candidates.

The WIST group looked closely at the situation in each of the participating companies and carried out in-depth surveys and interviews to better understand the nature of the resistance in each company. It was obvious that, in the sectors involved, women with families and whose performance was either comparable to or better than that of their male counterparts, gradually resigned, for various reasons. The main reason cited for women resigning was the rigidity of management practices in the company concerned, particularly poor management of maternity rights and the negative effect that maternity leave had on their careers. This is still true today, to varying degrees. The lack of flexibility in working time and in working location was also a strong cause of resignation for women.

Although typically denied by the leadership, the persistent presence of a glass ceiling was and continues to be the most subtle and difficult obstacle encountered. Often, women are guided toward support functions in their careers because it seems that companies are afraid to take risks and entrust them with real responsibilities.

Finally, we saw the emergence of another obstacle: the sustainability of dual careers. This was particularly interesting because it concerned both the men and the women in a company.

Dual careers are now the norm at all levels of society; the new generation does not really consider it a valid option for a woman to stay at home. A couple increasingly controls family affairs and their respective careers together. This does result in couples having to go through some particularly stressful periods in order to manage the conflicts between their careers and their personal lives.

The number of dual-career couples is growing rapidly, and company management in general is increasingly facing problems that are no longer limited to women. More and more men choose to take an extended period of paternity leave in order to care for young children and protect the career of the spouses. Companies cannot remain indifferent to these new scenarios and must be able to address them effectively, offering a framework within which they can be enacted.

The case of single parents is not as prevalent, but, when it does occur, it is more challenging and requires mobilization of all resources available.

Partnership in the Dual-Career Couple
So, in the end, does it all depend on the company? This cannot be the case, because the family is the unit that, ultimately, must sustain the pressure.

Pursuing a dual career is not without consequences for the family unit, which, in fact, becomes a kind of small company.

Dual-career families are not a luxury. They are a necessity in today’s cyclical economy.

The couple must cooperate effectively to achieve a certain balance, and the logistics must be finely tuned to manage the activities of each; the children themselves have to be more flexible and independent. If grandparents are available to help out, then this is a huge bonus.

Today, I am an adviser in a company whose digital world influences everything. Location and time of work are very flexible, and diversity in every sense (cultural and gender) is very present. All employees juggle with their smartphone, their Skype, their electronic calendar, and their relentless alerts. Permanent and immediate access to family and work seems crazy, but this is part of the solution.

At a conference about women in the Middle East, I was impressed by the directness of the questions, largely about couple solidarity, and often asked by veiled women. I complimented the organizer, a Saudi woman, who had worked for several weeks despite having three young children. She explained that she relied on her husband, who was very supportive of her career. “If he had not been supportive,” she replied, “I would not have married him.”

Leadership and Human Resources Engagement
The challenge for the leadership in the search for diversity, of course, is to look ahead and be aware of the aspirations of the new generations entering the world of work.

The human resources department is the interface with the new generations, and it needs to manage this relationship in a sensitive way.

Several clear lines of action are emerging:

Parity—The same recruitment procedures must apply to all, with the same treatment for the same job. This might seem obvious in theory; however, in practice, many companies are still far from having a completely unbiased approach to recruitment. One way to achieve a more objective attitude would be to have a recruitment team composed of a sufficiently diverse group of people so that preconceived notions and stereotypes can be neutralized. The real force, however, is the management commitment to parity at all levels.

Parity as a management attitude must be sought also in regards to remuneration. Leaders tend to deny the problem rather than analyze it and address it.

Parity is a necessary condition to ensure the quality of human relationships and the creation of a climate of trust within a company. The best women are quick to notice repeated differences in treatments between genders and leave for a better company.

Support for Families—Public services and the state play important roles in helping households to raise children while parents are working. Scandinavian countries and Canada are often cited as examples. Here, 1 year of maternity leave for the mother is the norm and the possibility of sharing it with the father also exists. In other countries, such as the US, there is pressure on companies to offer flexibility in returning to work for the mother and an opportunity to participate in the children’s care for the father.

Increasingly, family-friendly employment policies become a criterion of employer choice for the new generation. It comes as no surprise that Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Apple are, today, among the companies offering the most generous assistance to compensate for the weakness of the US social system. All the leading companies have now adopted so-called family friendly practices, and this, again, is good news for both men and women.

However, it should be said that overextended assistance for women on maternity leave may lead to too long a career break and make the return to work difficult. Good practice for both company and employee during this period is to keep in touch, and the employee should prepare intelligently for a return to work and the restarting of career aspirations. Some companies, for example, have introduced in-touch days, where women on maternity leave return to work for a certain number of days during this period so that they can keep abreast of developments.

Give a Chance for Women To Prove Themselves—This is about the famous glass ceiling. Leaders are the ones who could break it while still enhancing the performance culture.

One of the more difficult and complicated tasks for a company’s human resources department, board of directors, and management team is to choreograph the succession plan on which the future of the company is based. A company must identify at all levels the talents that will allow it to progress on all fronts. Establishing a list of potential talent involves choosing the most promising candidates. Such judgement will always be subjective (e.g., assessing people’s skills), and a risk will be involved. A company must learn to take risks in proposing women candidates early on for positions of responsibility as it routinely does with men and closely monitor their progress on the ladder.

This is continuous and tedious work. Gender diversity at the top is the reward of long and consistent care from the part of leaders to achieve parity in career management. There is a huge difference between those companies that decided to partner with all their employees, men and women, and be part of the solution at all stages of their development and those that are not sincerely trying, are indifferent, or do not feel concerned.

This difference is visible first in the quality of the resulting culture and the overall performance over a long period.

This difference is a fundamental part of the company reputation in the marketplace, and earning this competitive advantage the right way is central to the leadership agenda.

8 Aug 2017

The Normalization of Deviance in the Oil and Gas Industry: The Role of Rig Leadership in Success and Failure

The normalization of deviance is a major organizational cultural issue that is modeled and enabled by poor leadership and filters down through the organization with disastrous consequences for safety and operations.

Culture has been shown to create the circumstances that result in safety problems ranging from near misses to major catastrophe because of failures in operations integrity, specifically process safety. The organizational culture is also responsible for the level of productivity, of effectiveness and efficiency.

A major factor in operations integrity and in productivity is employee engagement. In turn, a transformational leadership style has been shown to be the most effective approach in developing an engaged workforce and a positive work culture, including in oil and gas installations.

This paper discusses these issues and, in particular, the role of leaders in developing a safe and productive work environment in drilling operations. Finally, it provides a solution to the question of how to develop effective leaders that involves talent recognition, effective recruitment, effective performance management, and training and coaching interventions across all three of these areas.

Find the paper on the HSSE-SR Technical Discipline Page free for a limited time.

24 Jul 2017

Drones and Facility Security: Things To Look Out For

Drones can be a useful tool for energy companies, particularly in the area of facility inspection, but a trio of experts argued that these vehicles present unique emerging security challenges that must be addressed in the near future.

A panel discussion held at the Stone Fort Group’s Energy Drone Coalition Summit examined the threat analyses, best practices, and technologies available for protecting facilities from malicious drone activity. Featuring three security and infrastructure specialists, the panel looked at the ways companies can identify and mitigate physical threats, as well as other monitoring and countermeasure concepts that take industry operations into account.

Travis Moran, managing consultant at Navigant Consulting and moderator of the discussion, emphasized the need for industry to address surveillance concerns on new and existing facilities. Operators will face increasing threats from attackers, such as protesters and terrorist organizations, as their knowledge and use of drone technology increases. Surveillance of site surveying, facility construction, and facility operation may become commonplace. Moran said companies should adopt a mindset of constant vigilance.

“When you’re doing your operations, teach your people out in the field that you’re being watched,” he said. “If you have any project that’s controversial, you’re under surveillance. You don’t know what’s going on out there.”

Taking the surveillance issue further, Bruce Martin said operators should re-examine their security procedures to account for drone capabilities. Previously, companies could maintain secure perimeters around their facilities either through fencing or, in the case of an offshore facility, natural aquatic boundaries. Cameras and security personnel could spot developing problems and address them in a reasonable amount of time.

Drone technology allows for surreptitious development of a potential attack. Martin, enterprise security director at Duke Energy, said that a drone can fly over a facility and closely examine vulnerabilities in perimeter defenses such as weak spots in a fence line, camera systems, and the guard force being used on-site.

“You can start to build a pretty good feel for what you have on-site and how you can penetrate that site,” Martin said. “Now, when you look at it from the perspective of a terrorist group or an extremist group, what you’re seeing more and more is that they’re becoming increasingly more physical in their destructive desires.”

Read the full story here.

19 Jul 2017

Managing Environmental Challenges During the First Exploration Well for Shale Gas in Denmark

Since 2010, interest in unconventional resources has grown in Europe with several companies revealing their interest in shale gas. Among them, Total held an 80% stake (with the Danish state-owned oil and gas company Nordsøfonden owning the remaining 20%) in the License 1/10 (Nordjylland) license in Denmark. Denmark is known as a leading country in Europe where associations (especially green organizations) play an important role in the debate on the energy mix and on the protection of the environment. The onshore license covered an area of about 3000 km². Following geosciences studies, the first exploration well was drilled in 2015. The activities involved exploration drilling, with the potential for hydraulic fracturing in the future, which has caught the attention of stakeholders.

This paper presents the environmental studies concerning the exploration drilling activities on License 1/10, environmental baseline study, environmental impact assessment, and monitoring. The study’s methodology, outputs, and permitting process are presented, as well as the concerns raised, in particular during public consultations. Monitoring results before, during, and after drilling operations are presented and discussed with regard to stakeholders’ environmental concerns. The paper points out the lessons to be learned from this exploration phase for nonconventional resources in a sensitive societal context. These findings can also be applied as shale gas exploration moves forward and later for a potential shale gas development phase.

Find the paper on the HSSE-SR Technical Discipline Page free for a limited time.

10 Jul 2017

Human Error: The Big Hurdle to Safer Facilities

An emphasis on human factors engineering (HFE) can have a significant effect on the safe operations of offshore facilities. Defined by the International Ergonomics Association as the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, HFE has seen interest gradually progress within the offshore industry for the past 2 decades. An expert, however, argued that more work needs to be done to convince owner and operator companies of the importance HFE in facility design.

At a workshop presentation held by the Ocean Energy Safety Institute and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Gerry Miller spoke about how a greater focus on HFE could make for safer offshore facilities. Miller is an HFE consultant who has provided support to the design and operation of man/machine systems in several sectors, including aerospace and the military.

Miller said there is a preferred hierarchy of approach to eliminating or reducing the undesirable effects of human factors on offshore structures. First, facilities should be designed so that errors cannot occur. While it is impossible to fully eliminate error in design, Miller said it is important for companies to have that mindset in the design process. The second step is to design to mitigate the consequences of error. Thirdly, design should include warnings of potential errors. Then, operators should select and train personnel to prevent errors.

Efficiency in facility design is also critical for safe operations. Miller said that, if a worker found a design component such as an instrument panel or some other console to be inefficient, that worker would most likely modify the equipment to his or her liking. This could solve the initial problem but also introduce other problems that may be as bad, or worse, than the original. Because of this, Miller said that designing a facility that minimizes or eliminates the need for user modification can help prevent accidents.

Read the full story here.