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6 Jul 2017

Cybersecurity: Learn What a Wiper is Before It Affects You

The malware that hit many businesses around the world on 27 June—including Rosneft, Maersk, and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant—and was initially reported as ransomware, wasn’t. It was worse: a “wiper” disguised as ransomware. And many cybersecurity experts think it may have been an initial test run of a new concoction of crimeware.

A wiper erases data from victims’ computer drives, unlike ransomware, which holds the data hostage until payment is made to the attacker. Kapersky Lab wrote that, in late-2011 and early-2012, reports emerged about computer systems that were compromised and rendered unbootable. The extent of the damage to these systems was so extensive that almost no data were recoverable. The malware was named “The Wiper,” and the term is now applied generally to crimeware with similar effects.

Weston Hecker, a principal application security engineer/principal penetration tester at NCR in Bismarck, North Dakota, and a member of Rampart, an invitation-only nonprofit group of vetted white hats (ethical computer hackers), said the malware was professionally made; originated from Eastern Europe; and struck hard in Ukraine, Russia, and Poland.

It appears to be a hybrid of WannaCry (ransomware that hit in mid-May) and Mimikatz, an open-source utility that enables the capture of credential information. Mimikatz steals network credentials and then infiltrates the whole network as an impersonator of legitimate users. A single infected system on the network processing administrative credentials is capable of spreading the infection to all the other computers.

Think of this hybrid’s creation as similar to genetic engineering. Bits of code are tweezed from WannaCry to take advantage of vulnerable information technology systems and combined with bits of Mimikatz. Hecker said that this hybrid attack may have been released as a field test to determine its effectiveness and ultimately to use the outcome to increase its ability to penetrate and propagate. Once malware is deployed, the opportunity to learn from it exists and makes possible a more virulent and destructive version.

Read the full story here.

6 Jul 2017

The Potential of Local Community Compensation for Hosting Facilities

Public acceptance is a major challenge for the siting of facilities for hydraulic fracturing, carbon capture and storage, and wind farms. The offering of compensation to communities potentially helps to create the perception of a fairer distribution of local risks and nonlocal benefits. This may help to prevent or solve siting controversies. This paper will discuss insights obtained from an extensive empirical research program in The Netherlands on psychological factors that determine the effectiveness of compensation beyond showing that the project is safe from a technical perspective.

The studies show that, when specific nonself-evident criteria are met, the offering of host community compensation has the potential to ease the process of siting facilities. The type of compensation offered matters (e.g., contrary to what many local government authorities believe, citizens prefer compensation funds and measures to improve the local economy over monetary compensation). Also, responses to host community compensation are not a simple matter of balancing the cost/benefit aspects of the proposed developments.

Social aspects play an important role (e.g., the perceived corporate social responsibility and trustworthiness of the players involved). Consultation of members of an affected community in the process of deciding about compensation is perceived as fair and communicates that the company takes its social responsibility serious. Before this project, there was little empirical research on the effectiveness of host community compensation and very little was known about psychological factors and how compensation mechanisms work. The knowledge acquired allows project developers and governments to utilize more effective compensation strategies in complex siting projects.

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

5 Jul 2017

Stress Can Cloud Facts, Hamper Communication

During high-stress situations, people tend to focus on the potential hazards or outcomes to such a degree that it minimizes their ability to process facts. On 25 July, SPE will hold a webinar entitled “Risk Communication—It’s Not Just About the Facts.” The webinar is geared toward professionals who may need to discuss technical matters in a highly stressful or emotionally charged situation.

Understanding the principles behind risk communication will enable a company to gain public trust and credibility while effectively communicating. The risk-communication webinar, organized by Ralph Marshall, global industrial hygiene manager for ExxonMobil, and Kristin Koblis, senior occupational health adviser for Noble Energy, will highlight some of the more common communication issues related to onshore oil and gas development, chemical exposure, and disease outbreaks.

Speakers will be Denise Hill, toxicologist and regulatory affairs professional with Cardno; Marisa Kreider, a toxicologist and senior managing health scientist with Cardno ChemRisk; and Laurie Gneiding, an associate toxicologist with Amec Foster Wheeler Environment and Infrastructure.

Hill’s consulting practice focuses on product stewardship in the petroleum and specialty chemicals industries. She provides hazard and risk assessment, regulatory review, and guidance regarding emerging issues and market-specific public concerns for trade associations, member organizations, and individual companies. Before joining Cardno, Hill conducted academic research at the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology.

Kreider holds a PhD degree from the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University. She currently serves as Cardno ChemRisk’s practice area lead for toxicology.

Gneiding holds a BA degree in biology from William Paterson College and an MS degree in environmental toxicology from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She has more than 33 years of experience in the preparation and presentation of human health and ecological risk assessments.

Register for the webinar here.

28 Jun 2017

Complexity Decreases Situation Awareness, Increases Human Error

Credit: Getty Images.

As projects increase in complexity, the chances for human error have also gone up and the consequences of error have become more significant. An expert argued that a lot of human error stems from a lack of awareness of what is happening in difficult and dynamic environments. This awareness, the expert said, is necessary for making good decisions.

At a joint forum (Human Factors to Support Safer and Effective Offshore Energy Operations) held by the Ocean Energy Safety Institute and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Mica Endsley examined the role situation awareness plays in drilling operations, as well as the ways in which system design can help improve situation awareness in a work staff. Endsley is the president of SA Technologies, a cognitive engineering firm, and is the former chief scientist for the US Air Force.

Read the full story here.

28 Jun 2017

H2O Midstream/Encana Deal Highlights Water Management Role in US Shale

H2O Midstream’s recent acquisition of produced-water infrastructure from Encana Oil and Gas in the Permian Basin highlights the growing importance of efficient water management in US shale plays.

This pond used for water storage in Encana’s Permian Basin operations is similar to one that H2O Midstream plans to construct there to serve Encana and nearby producers. Source: Encana.

The acquisition, announced on 14 June, was concurrent with the execution of an acreage-dedication-based midstream water services agreement, under which H2O Midstream will gather, dispose, and deliver for reuse produced water for a substantial portion of Encana’s acreage position in Howard County, Texas.

By terms of the acquisition, H2O Midstream will now own and operate Encana’s existing produced-water gathering system that consists of more than 100 miles of interconnected pipeline and five saltwater disposal wells with a total permitted disposal capacity of 80,000 BWPD.

Read the full story here.

21 Jun 2017

Reduce/Reuse/Recycle Approach in Managing Onshore Drilling Waste

A drilling campaign was carried out in Senoro, an onshore major gas/condensate field in East Indonesia, to drill 12 wells at four clusters, consisting of four re-entry wells and eight new development wells in the North Senoro Gas Field.

By using water-base mud as the drilling fluid for the overall well sections, the drilling operations generated two primary types of wastes—solid waste and liquid waste. Solid wastes consist of drilling cutting, used drilling fluid in its solid phase, and contaminated packaging materials. Liquid wastes consist of used organic chemicals and the drilling waste water produced from the fluid dewatering system.

Under the Governmental of Indonesia Regulation No.18 JO 85/1999 regarding hazardous and toxic waste management, drilling cutting and used drilling fluid were categorized as hazardous waste. The used organic chemicals and contaminated packaging also were categorized as hazardous by the law and, hence, required specific treatments to manage the drilling waste. Drilling waste water was required to be managed under the discharge limitation regulation of Act of Ministry of Environment No. 10/2010.

In this case study, through a waste-minimization concept, a reduce/reuse/recycle approach is used to manage the produced drilling waste. Initiated by an engineering design that was taken thorough deep assessment to use water-based and nonchloride-content mud material, a drilling waste management flow diagram was developed and applied to manage waste related to the drilled well, both general solid waste and general liquid waste.

By applying the selected drilling waste management flow diagram, the North Senoro drilling campaign can be performed within the waste-minimization concept and all discharged parameters can be ensured to be within the regulation discharge limit.

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

20 Jun 2017

New Frontiers Identified in Human-Factors Research

In response to incidents such as the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon in April 2010, the oil and gas industry has worked to generate methods that help ensure safe and environmentally responsible offshore operations. Despite these efforts, a research fellow at the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) argued that incident prevention methods will not be effective unless industry generates facility, equipment, and system designs that consider potential human-factors issues.

At a joint forum titled “Human Factors To Support Safer and Effective Offshore Energy Operations,” held by OESI and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, S. Camille Peres spoke about the progress being made in researching the effects of human factors in offshore projects. Peres is an assistant professor of educational and occupational health at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health.

In her presentation, Peres discussed the role human factors can play in major incidents, focusing primarily on the issues surrounding the Deepwater Horizon explosion. She said that incident and subsequent incidents around the world, such as the leaking of 6,000 tonnes of gas from Total’s Elgin platform in the UK North Sea in March 2012 and the November 2012 explosion of a production platform owned by Black Elk Energy in the US Gulf of Mexico (GOM), have made the subject even more important for owners, operators, and their onsite workers.

“We’re still seeing these incidents happen,” Peres said. “It’s not like Macondo is the be-all/end-all with regards to what we need to be focusing on. And so, it’s really time for us to take a serious reflection and talk together as a group from different industries, from different focuses, to be able to integrate what we know is impacting these incidents.”

In December, OESI released a paper that summarized the existing academic literature devoted to the adoption and integration of human factor methods, principles, and processes. [Read the paper here (PDF).] Peres said one of the major findings that came out of its study was that much of the peer-reviewed science on the subject focuses on the UK North Sea, with several studies based on the explosion of the Piper Alpha platform in July 1988. While there is some research originating from the US, she said there is not much that specifically deals with the GOM. In addition, she said there is a lack of research demonstrating the effectiveness of specific solutions related to human-factors-related issues.

“There are a lot of groups that are generating solutions, things that will help with safety climate, situational awareness, and things like this; but, right now, unfortunately, we don’t have much available with regard to the efficacy of these solutions or how much they changed incident numbers,” Peres said. “Did they improve performance in a way that we wanted to see? We’re not seeing this in the peer-reviewed science, this evidence that will let us know what the industry needs to be spending its money on. For practitioners, you want to be able to go to your bosses and say, ‘I’m asking you to write this big check for career resource management, and here’s the evidence that it works.’”

In the paper, Peres et al. argued that the lack of actionable research was in part because of the ethical difficulties involved in setting up experiments that could accurately reflect operational conditions: An experiment that affords attribution of cause and effect in a hazardous condition increases the chance of a disaster that puts people at risk. With that in mind, an operator looking to make decisions on such things as rig design, safety programs, and training in research must often take inferential leaps.

Despite this handicap, the paper suggested ethical methods of conducting empirical studies to identify casual relationships between the variables that often affect human factor performance. One such suggestion was for researchers and businesses to use pre/post designs that compare the outcomes of interest—such as the number of safety incidents and the effectiveness of performance—before and after various intervention techniques like interface redesign and the implementation of an alarm management strategy. Scenario-specific training facilities can also be useful for operators.

In addition to identifying gaps in human-factors research, Peres et al. examined potentially important areas of future human-factors research:

  • Perceptual-based vs. cognitive-based decision making. This involves studying the level of human information processing required to make a decision once all information is available. Cognitive engineering emphasizes the design and development of complex systems while taking into account human behavior. While not a new concept, Peres et al. argued that one threat of research yet to be mined is the identification of user interface components such as readouts, figures, and graphs that allow workers to make decisions based on lower-order, fundamental human information processing capabilities instead of demanding more cognitively expensive capabilities.
  • Instantiating “super workers” wisdom—The paper suggests that companies may be able to incorporate the knowledge of their more highly skilled workers (the “super workers”) into rig control software and facility operation. Peres et al. argue that more research must be performed on identifying the thought processes that allow these workers to identify trends quickly, presenting this information in a way that would allow a new or mediocre worker to improve his or her performance, and ultimately building the information into artificial intelligence systems that mitigate or remove the element of human error.
  • Vigilance—As automation assumes a greater share of onsite operations, the industry must look into designing systems that help workers maintain attention and focus and whether there may be value in insinuating fake error conditions at nonroutine intervals.
  • Stressed-performance testing—The use of environments and facilities that simulate life-threatening conditions to see how people perform under stress. These simulation environments are typically designed for emergency-response training. The paper lists the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services Fire School and Disaster City as an example.
  • Return on investment—This involves addressing the business case for human-factors research and developing cost-effective methods for retrofitting existing facilities. Peres et al. argued that more research must be done to identify which human-factors evaluation methods, applied at which specific points in the design of a drilling system, yield the best returns.
  • Key performance indicators—KPIs may also be valuable in helping companies know whether their systems and programs are making meaningful progress toward successfully integrating human factors and ergonomics. Peres et al. write that one of the main challenges in developing KPIs is the high amount of effort needed to generate an indicator with sufficient specificity for measurement.


14 Jun 2017

Keeping up with Hackers: What CEOs Lose Sleep Over

Credit: Getty Images.

When we asked oil and gas CEOs about their biggest causes for concern in today’s environment, the results in our annual CEO Survey of Oil & Gas Companies shows a significant shift from the typical concerns over geopolitical uncertainty and over-regulation that we have seen in the past 5 years. According to PwC’s 20th CEO Survey, two interrelated threats keeping leaders up at night are the speed of technological change and growing cyberthreats.

This underlines similar findings from a 2017 report sponsored by Siemens on The State of Cybersecurity in the Oil & Gas Industry, which found that “the deployment of cybersecurity measures in the industry isn’t keeping pace with the growth of digitalization in oil and gas operations.” Consequentially, 68% of the survey’s 377 cyberrisk individuals claimed to have had at least one security compromise in the past year.

Read the full story here.

8 Jun 2017

Climate Change and SPE

In early April, the shipping lanes along the coastlines of Newfoundland and ­Labrador, Canada, were quite congested, but not with tankers. This area of ­Canada—often called “Iceberg Alley”—was filled with 450 icebergs, floating south. This overabundance appeared suddenly; the US Coast Guard reported the increase from 37 to 450 icebergs in a week.

Icebergs near Fort Amherst, St. John’s, Canada. Credit: Getty Images.

What is the cause? Scientists disagree. Some state that rising temperatures caused by global warming triggered this ­massive iceberg jam. Others say that it could have been caused by a violent windstorm in St. John’s, Canada, a few weeks earlier.

In either case, the “bergy water”—the term used by the ­Canadian Coast Guard in its ice bulletin—has officials believing that the number of icebergs this year will eclipse last year’s total of 687.

Opinions regarding climate change—is it real or not—are polar opposite. There are just as many people who passionately believe it exists and needs to be slowed as those who do not believe it exists.


Typically, SPE does not take positions on political or controversial matters. We are a society that disseminates technical knowledge for the upstream segment of the oil and gas industry. But, this concern is so prevalent globally that last year, the SPE Board of Directors formed a climate change task force to identify “key aspects of climate change and public perceptions of climate change.” This group also was charged with developing a strategy for SPE’s response and recommending any ­actions that the society should take.

The board also requested that recommendations developed by the task force avoid any approach that could be construed as lobbying or political advocacy, as neither is consistent with SPE’s role and status as a not-for-profit organization.

The task force worked diligently for nearly a year studying climate change policies such as the Paris Agreement, which was developed at the 21st annual Conference of Parties. Population growth and economic development are driving increased need for and access to energy, so the Paris Agreement is expected to bring change over the course of this century. It has the potential to usher in new opportunities for SPE members through deploying carbon dioxide capture, use, and storage (CCUS), further accelerating natural gas as an option to coal, changing the infrastructural load as natural gas becomes an essential component of a more flexible power generation system, and pushing oil into new markets as it is displaced from some of its current uses (such as transportation).

Based on these expected changes, the task force proposed that SPE adopt a climate change strategy that maximizes alignment with SPE’s mission and vision, while positioning us to expand the mission and vision should the landscape change this century. The twofold strategy includes ensuring the inclusion of SPE technologies and practices that may help address climate change while meeting the growing energy needs of the world. The second component is to take the necessary steps to inform SPE members about climate change issues and their connection to what members do, the technologies they know and apply, and the partnerships and communities to which they belong or could belong.

Read the full column here.

7 Jun 2017

Implementing a Disciplined Process-Safety Framework in Mature Assets

Despite all the technological advancements and lessons learned from past incidents, the oil and gas business has still a long way ahead in the journey toward an accident-free working environment. In particular, process-safety incidents characterized by low-frequency but severe consequences represent a big concern, not only for downstream plants and refineries but also for upstream activities because of their dramatic aftermath: loss of containment and release of toxic substances have the deadly potential to escalate to fires, explosions, and unwanted releases into the environment . Therefore, exploration and production operators need to gain a better understanding of how to manage major accident hazards through structured and systematic approaches.

This issue becomes increasingly important when it comes to dealing with mature assets where ageing wells, flowlines, and facilities can pose integrity issues and operational risks. In such circumstances, the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide can make the picture even more complex in regards to the health and safety of people and emergency response readiness.

This paper provides an overview of the holistic and systematic approach that has been set up by a company and implemented throughout asset life with the precise aim to ensure integrity of its operation, manage major accident, and deliver the fundamentals of process safety consistently across its subsidiaries.

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

1 Jun 2017

Column: Curiosity Saves Lives

By Burl Amsbury, Vetergy Group

“Safety is Priority One.”
“Nothing we do is worth taking a risk.”
“Safety is our business.”
“Our goal is a zero accident workplace.”

These are real words on real safety posters in real companies. But are they genuine?

Credit: Adobe Stock.

Lip service (especially hyperbolic or idealistic lip service), if different than actual behavior (especially behavior reinforced by cultural norms), does more harm than good because it sends a mixed message.

If an organization has a culture that implicitly or explicitly rewards short-term productivity, what happens to safety numbers? Up or down? And why is that?

The tempting conclusion is that safety is in tension with productivity. There is a fundamental trade-off between these two measures of success. Right?

Well, not quite.

Let’s talk about HROs. If you already know that is an acronym for high-reliability organizations and are tired of hearing about how great HROs are in the same way you’re tired of hearing about how great it is to be attractive, wealthy, and physically fit, hang on a minute.

Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, consider this: We will not write about how great it is to be an HRO; we will write about what it takes to get there.

Read the full column here.

1 Jun 2017

Workshop Aims for Safer, Effective Offshore Operations


Since the Macondo accident in 2010, many investigations have been conducted to determine the root causes of this enormous personal, environmental, and economic disaster. Many of these investigations revealed that applying the science and practice of human factors and ergonomics could have mitigated or prevented both this event and other potential incidents. The Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) are collaborating on a workshop that will work to show how human factors and ergonomics science can be applied to enable safer offshore energy operations.

The workshop, the first joint workshop by OESI and HFES, is set for 14 June in Houston.


The keynote presentation, “Situation Awareness and Crew Resource Management Offshore,” will be delivered by Rhona Flin, professor of industrial psychology at the Aberdeen Business School at Robert Gordon University. At the school, she directs and supervises research on human performance in high-risk industries and organizational safety culture.

Other presentations will be made by Mica Endsley, past president of HFES and founder of SA Technologies, a firm focused on situation awareness, design, and training; Gerry Miller with G.E. Miller and Associates; and Ajay Shah, Legislative and Regulatory Advocacy Team lead for Chevron.

Endsley, who was chief scientist for the US Air Force from 2013 to 2015, will speak on “Improving Situation Awareness Through System Design.” Miller is expected to speak about “Physical Ergonomics and Design—Drilling and Production, and Shah will give a presentation on American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 75 (API RP75). API RP75 is the “Recommended Practice for Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program for Offshore Operations and Facilities,” and Shah’s presentation is titled “Translation to Practice—Role of API RP75.”

Read more about the workshop and register here.