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6 Aug 2016

Operational Risk: Stepping Beyond Bow Ties

This paper presents the multiple-physical-barrier (MPB) approach to operational (or process) risk, an extension of the common bow-tie technique for identifying risk. Bow ties identify a variety of different types of barriers and help communicate safety principles that link causal factors and subsequent actions to a specific event. By narrowing the focus to physical barriers and by developing success paths that enable each barrier to perform its safety function, the MPB approach moves further toward a systematic approach to operational-risk management.

Introduction—Operational Risk, Bow Ties, and Physical Barriers

Example bow-tie analysis for a well kick while drilling.

Operational Risk. One of the more elusive issues in the upstream oil and gas industry is the understanding of process safety or process risk—especially how it overlaps with industrial (or personal) safety—and the types of tools needed to assess and manage it. An important part of this hinges on the role that barriers play in the analysis and what constitutes a barrier. Some companies consider training to be a barrier, others consider certain meetings to be barriers, and still others consider safety procedures themselves to be barriers. Indeed, there is scarce practical agreement between companies as to how process risk is assessed, managed, and communicated. As a result, there can be similarities, but, ultimately, no two process-risk assessments from different companies look the same.

Several different barriers are shown in the bow-tie diagram in Fig. 1. Barrier types there include the well-control program, mud checks, fill-ups, and escalation barriers.

Bow-Tie Analysis. Bow-tie analysis has been widely used in the offshore oil and gas industry as a technique for communicating safety issues and safety control measures. Bow-tie analysis is event based; it seeks to tie causal factors and subsequent actions to a specific event, such as a kick. Bow-tie diagrams help teams better understand the sequences that can lead to serious process or operational risks. They also identify mitigating actions that can be taken to reduce the consequences of a major event.

The MPB Approach—A Pathway to Success
The MPB approach was developed with the help of collaborations from the upstream oil and gas industry. It takes a step beyond bow ties toward a more-direct and -systematic understanding of operational risk so that operators can design their operations to be successful. In so doing, risk is systematically identified and evaluated and can be incorporated into the management system to help ensure the safety of offshore operations.

This paper posits that operational risk stems from the breech, removal, or failure to properly install or maintain a required physical barrier. If all required physical barriers are in place and effective, then there will be no operational safety incidents. If all of the cement-plug barriers, fluid-column barriers, and blowout-preventer barriers had been effective, there would not have been any of the major accident events in the Gulf of Mexico, including explosions, loss-of-well-control events, and major environmental spills. Operational risk is fundamentally about establishing and maintaining MPBs.

Physical barriers are designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to ensure that they can perform under adverse conditions. In many cases, multiple physical barriers are required so that, in case one barrier fails, another is in place to achieve the safety function (e.g., contain hydrocarbons). More broadly, the MPB approach reflects the concept that the number of physical barriers should be commensurate with the risk of the ­associated activity.

The focus of the MPB approach lies with two leading questions:

  • What are the physical barriers required for the operation at hand?
  • What is needed to ensure that these barriers succeed in meeting their safety functions?

These questions marry principles from two very different industries (nuclear and maritime). The focus on physical barriers that is foundational to the nuclear safety industry and the ability to diagram and trace how critical systems function (e.g., performance qualification standards) form a key part of training for engineers in the US Navy and the US Coast Guard. Both perspectives were adapted, and templates were developed to diagram this approach as a success path.

It is this understanding of success paths, especially when applied to the physical barriers, that paves the way toward systematically elucidating the risks. It is important to visualize what must be successful in order to understand what can fail. In effect, this approach is designed to increase operational awareness with the aim of managing operational risk more effectively.

This success-path model is straightforward and provides a number of benefits including

  • It is a systematic mechanism for getting at the root cause of operational safety risks that can lead to major accidents. The top-down approach starts at the highest levels first and then enables drill-downs to whatever level of detail is needed to identify the safety problem or match the available data.
  • It provides a risk-informed communications framework for communicating with rig workers, senior executives, regulators, and everyone in between. Rig workers can identify their roles within the success paths and readily understand how their actions are integral to maintaining the success of the barrier. At the other end of the spectrum, for example, executives are sometimes faced with making decisions regarding new technologies, and key details may not be fully understood. This approach is well-suited to bring them up to speed in many of the technical details.
  • A success-path approach enables decision makers to understand the key points required for success and then participate in the discussion about risks and safety. Further, it provides a consistent and rigorous basis for defending the decisions that have been made, whether to senior executives or third parties. The foundations of this approach have been demonstrated to hold up in legal situations.
  • It also serves as an important training tool that enables students to grasp the key operational safety issues. Each physical barrier can be systematically analyzed to provide the foundation needed to manage the operational working environment safely.

The value of the MPB approach is that it steps beyond the bow-tie analysis techniques by placing the focus directly where the risk is—namely, on the physical barriers, their safety functions, and the success paths (both automated and human) that are needed to ensure the success and safety of the operation.

The hierarchy of physical barrier, safety function, and success path is not a coincidence. This chain of cause-and-effect logic forms the basis of operational-risk management for a system, a rig, a well, or a facility. Ultimately, however, it is the role of the operational plan or management system to call out strategies for maintaining the success paths.

The MPB approach is sufficiently intuitive for everyday use yet powerful enough for large-scale integration. When it comes to process (or operational) safety on offshore oil and gas facilities, the devil is in the details, but the MPB approach guides its practitioners to find and identify those details systematically. The benefits are not only for the practitioners but also for guiding the entire operational team on a path toward intuitively understanding the safety implications of their roles and implementing a successful operation.

This approach also positions operational-risk management to be quantified at some point in the future. When reliability quantification is incorporated, the safety significance of any component, system, or set of human actions can be compared and evaluated ­numerically.

5 Aug 2016

How the Petroleum Industry Can Learn From the Ebola Crisis of 2014

The Ebola crisis of 2014 was one of the worst infectious disease outbreaks in recent history. It also occurred in a region with endemic medical risks and poor medical infrastructure. These two factors make it an important learning exercise for the global petroleum community. This paper reviews the Ebola outbreak from the viewpoint of an onshore and offshore petroleum operator, providing insight into the real threats the outbreak presented by looking past the media hype and diving into the real organizational effects of the outbreak.

West Africa experienced the most severe Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak ever recorded. The most-affected countries are Liberia (10,672 cases as of 16 ­August 2015), Sierra Leone (13,494 cases), and Guinea (3,786 cases). Other affected countries include Mali, Nigeria, and Senegal in Africa; and Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, although to a much lower level. Pictorial representation of the number of cases and deaths in affected countries as of 5 July 2015 is shown in Fig. 1.

Number of deaths and people affected by Ebola.

The World Health Organization on 6 August 2014 declared this Ebola outbreak in West Africa to be a public health emergency of international concern.

Lessons Learned
The West Africa Ebola outbreak has been the largest, longest, and most complex since the virus was discovered in 1976. It has had the highest number of cases and deaths ever reported for Ebola.

A functional health system is a prerequisite for any coordinated preparedness for and response to any possible outbreak. The 2005 revision to the International Health Regulations (IHR) is a legally binding agreement whose purpose is “to prevent, protect against, control, and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.” None of the most-affected countries were compliant with the IHR regulations, and this surely delayed the timely identification of the disease, the setting up of contact tracing and adequate surveillance measures, and the early implementation of infectious control measures in healthcare settings.

This epidemic served as a reminder of the possible negative consequences of globalization (i.e., rapid spread of infection across continents and oceans, putting the entire world at risk). The West Africa Ebola outbreak also reconfirmed that infectious diseases cannot be easily cordoned off to one country or continent. Rather, an outbreak will have an immediate and critical global effect if immediate prevention and control measures are not put in place.

In addition, countries with weak health systems and poor health infrastructure cannot withstand the effect of such rapidly spreading epidemics. In such situations, the country’s health systems will collapse, leading to more and more deaths because many patients with other diseases (e.g., malaria and HIV/AIDS) would not approach the clinics for fear of being exposed to the epidemic. This could lead to economic shutdown of the affected countries, leading to humanitarian crises. Thus, there is a significant need to strengthen and restructure basic public health systems in these countries, including primary healthcare facilities, laboratories, surveillance systems, and critical care facilities.

Another important lesson learned is the importance of collaboration with media in order to provide correct information. This is essential to avoid or control the spread of panic among the community. The additional threat to the population’s faith in government and international agencies can be fatal for both sides.

Lessons Learned for Companies Operating in Tropical Hot Spots at Risk of Zoonotic Infections
Companies operating in tropical hot spots—typically at high risk of zoonotic infections—that are interested in business continuity need vigilantly to understand the health and political context in which they operate in order to keep their employees safe and protected.

From a preparedness perspective, companies should undertake a thorough review of the capability of the country’s national health and veterinary system at the beginning of the project itself, supplemented by periodic reviews. A detailed health-impact assessment of the project should be conducted before the start of the project and for each major project expansion. This assessment should include a review of zoonotic infections and not be exclusively based on the epidemiology of the diseases already present in the country. Companies should develop flexible response plans informed by the characteristics of the disease or an outbreak and not merely based on fixed triggering factors. The response to the Ebola epidemic, in fact, could not rely on trigger matrices developed for other possible outbreaks because one single case would require a substantial and immediate response plan.

When coming up with a strategy to protect the premises and its employees, the company should keep in mind that the regular health, safety, and environment (HSE) emergency-response-plan (ERP) triggers will not always be appropriate in such infectious-disease outbreaks. This was one of the biggest stumbling blocks encountered in this Ebola outbreak (i.e., to get health, safety, and environment managers to understand that the response to this infectious disease epidemic is very different from that to any other threat that uses the normal HSE ERP and traditional triggers).

Risks Involved for Oil and Gas Companies: Offshore Suspected Cases
First Scenario. The biggest risk involved for oil and gas companies operating in affected countries is to have a symptomatic Ebola case offshore. It is very likely for a person who is completely asymptomatic, and who travels from an affected country after unprotected exposure, to become symptomatic while offshore. This would cause fear and panic among the rest of the team and expose the medical personnel available offshore until the diagnosis is confirmed either way. In such a scenario, the best prevention and control measure would be to isolate the suspected case. The medical staff members should protect themselves with the correct personal protective equipment but should still minimize physical contact with bodily fluids of the suspected case until help arrives from a specialist team.

The company should ensure that there are dedicated and trained teams available at the project sites that will be able to respond to such offshore emergencies almost immediately. This specialist team should be ready to move the suspected case, most likely by boat (helicopter providers will be reluctant to respond in such cases), and immediate directions should be given to clean and disinfect the offshore facilities as soon as possible.

Second Scenario. The company is operating in a nonaffected country, and people from affected countries are working offshore and there is a suspected case on the rig. The chances are that there will be no systems in place to deal with such a patient. There may be no laboratory facilities available, so even excluding EVD will be complex.

First, preventing this situation from happening should be the main objective. This can be achieved through training of all the workers who travel to and from affected countries. They should understand how to mitigate the risk and why it is so important to inform the employer about any potential contact with an ­Ebola-risk case. They should then be allowed to stay at home for 21 days and monitor their health, before going offshore.

A second important consideration is that no symptomatic individual from an affected country should be allowed to go offshore. Consideration should be given whether the company will allow people from affected countries to go offshore unless they have gone through a 21-day window period (in the case of EVD) outside of the affected country. The situation may turn out to be complex and controversial, but it depends on the rank of the individual or workforce and the level of understanding about the disease.

Although, at the time this paper was written, the current outbreak was still not completely over, systems are now in place in affected countries to ensure that the same uncontrolled spread of EVD among humans seen in 2014 will most likely never happen again. The lessons learned from this outbreak have definitely sensitized the world to the fact that the spread of EVD among humans becomes almost immediately a global threat and cannot remain confined to a country or a continent. The key is to respond rapidly and effectively at the early stages of the spread. This early-response system was already tested in Nigeria and Mali, where medical infrastructure is more or less the same as in the three heavily affected countries. But, because of the rapid response of the Nigerian and Malian governments, supported by the international community and nongovernmental organizations, the ongoing spread among humans was stopped very effectively, with only a few cases reported.

This was the biggest Ebola outbreak ever, with many lives lost, including healthcare workers in the line of duty. How­ever, the long-term benefit from this outbreak is the development of vaccines that will save many more lives in the future. Such an unprecedented and uncontrolled outbreak is highly unlikely to occur again. These vaccines are still going through various test trials but thus far have demonstrated very positive ­results.

4 Aug 2016

HSE Conference Highlights Past Progress, Future Challenges

In April of this year, SPE held its 25th-­anniversary Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility (HSSE-SR) conference in Norway. It is incredible to think about the progress this industry has made since the very first event was held in 1991. The theme this year was fitting: Sustaining Our Future Through Innovation and Collaboration. The technological solutions that have been introduced have helped us be not only more efficient but also safer and more environmentally friendly. The challenges we face now, and into the future, include more oversight from all of our stakeholders—from the governments to the public—all of whom grant us the license to operate.

Tom Knode

We currently face the acute challenge of sustaining our performance in a low-price environment. The industry is responding by introducing proven lean techniques, to be more capital efficient. At the same time, the demands on the HSSE-SR functional professionals have never been greater, with regulations being created or updated at a rapid pace. The public has an increased focus on our performance. This means the HSSE-SR representatives in our industry must become increasingly savvy, both technically and operationally.  Functional leaders must have a firm grounding in the HSSE-SR risks inherent to the operations as well as a good understanding of the business and financials. This knowledge will enable companies to prioritize and direct their focus and resources to the right places.

The journey to an injury- and incident-free operation has many paths, and progress is being made. Process safety is becoming a routine part of our structure programs and management systems. The ongoing discussions around unconventional development are driving understanding of everything from the potential for injection-induced seismicity to the role of government in regulating drilling and completions. Companies are better at integrating social issues into their overall risk picture and are working more proactively with communities to ensure their license to operate. We are seeing more focus on the emissions from our operations. Because of climate-change concerns, governments are requiring that more be done, which is driving companies to develop new technologies to help identify and fix point sources.

And, finally, there is always the human element. It once was very common to see an incident investigation in which the root cause was listed as someone not following a process. Our interactions with high-reliability organizations are shifting the understanding of human factors. At the aforementioned SPE conference, technical experts on human factors, including researchers and pilots for major airlines, discussed how organizations can take the human element into account as they build their equipment, processes, and procedures. This helps us to better look at failures (and successes) through a brain-based focus and understand how to reduce the chance, and outcome, of errors.

3 Aug 2016

Ohio Study Tries To Pin a Number to Earthquake Risk

Research and development firm Battelle is working on a new induced-seismicity study that aims to help wastewater disposal well operators in Ohio stay on the good side of state regulators.

Expected to be completed later this year, the company says the study will be the first to quantify a disposal well’s potential to cause an earthquake.

Concern over disposal wells in Ohio was brought to the fore when a series of earthquakes jolted residents of Youngstown, Ohio, in late 2011. A disposal well near downtown was assigned responsibility for the tremors and regulators responded by shuttering that well along with several located nearby—the scenario Battelle is hoping its study can prevent from happening again.

“It’s really a risk-based mapping study,” said Srikanta Mishra, a senior research leader and energy fellow with Battelle. “The idea is to show that, within the state of Ohio, there are some areas that should be avoided and there are some areas that could have potential for wastewater disposal without representing any adverse risk to the communities.”

Several independent operators in Ohio are forming a joint industry project to help fund the study and, though the study is incomplete, Battelle has already identified a number of locations in the state where those companies may want to think twice about drilling a new disposal well.

Mishra said the high-risk areas have low storage capacity and tight rocks that limit the rate of injection and are close to fault zones. Researchers are also using other risk factors, which include the depth of the target formation and the history of natural seismic activity in the area.

A map of eastern Ohio shows the estimated wastewater fluid storage capacity of the region’s subsurface. Researchers are hoping to use these data to help disposal well operators know which parts of the state are most susceptible to injection-induced seismicity. Image courtesy of Battelle.

These data points are used to create a fluid flow analysis model that predicts the pressure buildup in a formation as a result of a specific volume of injected waste water. “Then we couple that with a geomechanics model that will say ‘If this is the pressure, then that will translate to this level of stress change, which can produce an earthquake or seismic activity of this magnitude,’” Mishra said.

This means that operators will also be able to use the data to determine how much waste water they can inject into a particular well or particular areas before they are likely to trigger a seismic event. This would allow those companies to self-impose a limit on injections in order to avoid regulatory actions.

Mishra said some of the work that remains to be done includes filling in data gaps from areas of the state where there is a low density of disposal wells and thus less geologic information.

The results of the study could have a big effect on the future of Ohio’s disposal well business because the state not only handles its own waste water but also imports much of the waste water generated in neighboring Pennsylvania. Because of Pennsylvania’s strict regulations, there are only 11 disposal wells in the state compared with more than 200 in Ohio.

Mishra said similar studies could be carried out for other parts of the country but Ohio was selected to be the first because Battelle had already built up a large database of geologic information from an earlier government-funded study on the state’s CO2– and wastewater-storage potential.

2 Aug 2016

A New Reality for Training and Safety Technology

If you were at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston this year, you may have noticed the increasingly popular trend of exhibitors using virtual reality (VR) headsets to engage with attendees.

The unique visual and immersive qualities that make these devices such great marketing tools are also what some in the oil and gas industry say make them such powerful training tools.

VR technology has come a long way since its clunky ancestors were first introduced in the 1990s. Thanks to high-resolution screen technology and powerful gaming engines, the latest generation has been deemed by the techno-experts as ready for prime time. Equally important, VR has become affordable; some of the high-end devices now sell for only a few hundred dollars.

An illustration depicts what an oilfield worker sees in his field of view while using augmented reality glasses. Technology developers from various sectors say the technology enhances productivity and can improve safety. Image courtesy of Optech4D.

This confluence of capability and cost is why Vincent Higgins left his job as a senior-level industry consultant to become the founder and chief executive officer of Optech4D. The 4-year-old Houston-based startup develops custom training programs that recreate oilfield and facility environments inside the VR devices.

“I had an idea around simulation that I thought could really be of value,” Higgins said, adding that with VR “you have this visceral experience of being there and it’s as if it is actually happening. That adds a level of learning that you could never get in any other situation.”

The company also creates programs for a similar technology called augmented reality (AR). Instead of presenting users a computer-generated world, AR gives people an enhanced version of the real world complete with contextual information about where they are, where they are going, or what is in front of them.

Analysts are predicting that 2016 will be a watershed year for both VR and AR. Global market research firm Gartner said in a recent report that more than 1.4 million devices will be sold this year—a tenfold increase over last year—and that by 2017 the number of shipped units will jump to more than 6 million.

According to its website, Optech4D has so far done work for oil companies Eni and Shell along with the industry construction giant Bechtel and rotating equipment supplier Dresser-Rand. For one of its operator clients, Optech4D designed a VR-based helideck officer training program that performed so well the company has begun certifying trainees onshore instead of spending millions each year on flying them offshore to become certified.

Higgins noted that VR training allows supervisors to digitally track every move a trainee makes and they can throw them into scenarios too dangerous to recreate in the real world, such as crashing a helicopter onto the deck of an offshore rig. Workers can also plug into the VR devices wherever they are for training-on-demand.

One of the company’s next projects is to develop a well control VR simulation that would serve as an alternative to the more expensive well control schools. Down the road, Higgins wants to simulate well cementing and routine operations such as the inspection and maintenance of blowout preventers.

Many of those in this space like to point out that, not only are younger workers in need of the most training, they are also the most likely group to embrace this new approach. Because they grew up playing the very video games that helped drive the technology to commercial readiness, Higgins said young people intuitively adapt to VR. “They get in there, and they learn almost immediately using virtual reality,” he added.

In terms of adoption and development, VR currently has the edge, but AR is not far behind. AR technology can be used on computer tablets or with the emerging group of smart glasses that tend to look like safety goggles on steroids. With the glasses, AR gives users a hands-free ability to follow instructions or seek guidance while performing a task.

For example, a field technician equipped with AR glasses loaded with gigabytes of information could walk up to a broken compressor unit, and, with a glance to his/her left, be shown an easily readable and scrollable repair manual.

A look to the right, and now the worker sees a 3D model of the compressor that can be virtually disassembled to show all the internal bits with a simple hand gesture. They can even play an instructional video specific to that compressor model before turning their focus back to the repair job.

If the machinery has sensors or an Internet-of-things device, then the AR glasses could allow the worker to see temperature, pressure, and other safety-critical data before even touching the compressor. And if there is a camera built into the glasses, the worker can have an impromptu video chat with a supervisor whenever he/she runs into trouble. Higgins envisions a future in which AR technology enables a single equipment expert to collaborate remotely with 50 or even 100 field technicians a day.

The big idea is that all of this will cut down on mistakes and downtime. Last year, the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, which coined the term AR, presented a study it did with Iowa State University that backs those claims. The study showed that nontrained university students using AR to assemble a mock airplane wing got it right on the first try 90% of the time and 30% faster than the groups who did not use AR technology.

With the hardware becoming widely available, the focus will soon turn to the software developers who will ultimately be charged with making VR and AR devices indispensable tools of our modern age. But to achieve ubiquity, those developers need companies from all sectors to start using the technologies and help uncover their most valuable applications.

This chicken-and-egg situation reminds Higgins of the time when another smart gadget was first rolled out into the market before eventually taking the world by storm. “I waited in line in 2007 to get the first iPhone, and I used it mainly for email and texting,” he said. “Now, I use it for 50 or 60 different things because the apps became available. It’s become part and parcel of everything we do.”


27 Jul 2016

OESI Forum Sounds the Alarm for Offshore Safety

Registration is now open for the Ocean Energy Safety Institute’s (OESI’s) Alarm Management Forum, which will be held 24 August at Maersk Training in Houston. Current confirmed speakers represent Maersk Training, Transocean, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, Shell, American Airlines, Texas A&M, Schlumberger, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, The National Academy of Science, PAS, and ProSys.

The forum will provide the opportunity to share and discuss best practices in the management of alarms for safer offshore operations and tackle questions such as

  • What process is used to manage the prioritization of alarms?
  • How does the ocean energy industry deal with alarm flooding, alarm rationalization, and other alarm issues?
  • What are the best practices of other industries that have had to deal with alarm management issues?
  • What research and future efforts are ongoing to help alarming to help increase situational awareness and proper decision-making offshore?

Small group sessions will discuss alarm management metrics and discuss topics that could be included in a future development of an alarm management specification for the ocean energy industry. The product of this forum will be proceedings that will include presentations, discussions, current and best practices, ideas and tasks to help continuously improve safer management of alarms and a framework of ideas to help develop an alarm management specification.

Register for the forum here.

27 Jul 2016

Post-Deepwater-Horizon Research Consortium Announces First Project Awards

The Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence has announced more than USD 2 million in research projects to address priority problems affecting the health and well-being of the Gulf of Mexico and those who depend on it. Texas OneGulf is led by the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

The Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence has announced more than USD 2 million in research projects to address priority problems affecting the health and well-being of the Gulf of Mexico. Photo credit: Getty Images.

These projects, funded by the Office of the Governor, represent the first major allocation of research dollars from the Texas OneGulf consortium, which was created after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to direct funding in support of programs, projects, and activities that restore and protect the environment and economy of the Gulf Coast region. The projects tackle a variety of issues that directly affect the Gulf of Mexico and its residents, including studying the effect of red tide blooms on human health and the health care infrastructure and using underwater gliders to search the coast for hypoxic dead zones.

“We are very appreciative of the governor’s support of Texas OneGulf as it has allowed us to fund these diverse and innovative projects,” said Larry McKinney, director at HRI. “What happens in the Gulf of Mexico affects the health and economic wellbeing of Texas citizens on a daily basis.”

A consortium of nine Texas institutions, Texas OneGulf is a unique multidisciplinary team of marine science, socioeconomic, and human health researchers united to promote collaborative research and problem-solving actions.

The projects, helmed by a variety of institutions across Texas, are

Gulf of Mexico Report Card Prototype for Texas
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, USD 550,000
Collaborating institutions: Harwell Gentile and Associates and the University of Delaware
This project will develop a prototype Gulf of Mexico report card by evaluating the overall ecosystem health of the Texas Gulf Coast. Workshops of scientists, stakeholders, and Texas environmental managers will convene to identify the pressures and stressors that impinge on coastal Texas ecosystems and define long-term sustainability goals.

Restoring and Enhancing Structurally Complex Nursery Habitat To Enhance Reef Fish Populations
Texas A&M University at Galveston, USD 223,752
Collaborating institutions: Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
This project will develop a structurally complex nursery habitat using both natural and man-made materials to improve the early life survival and recruitment success of reef-dependent fish and gather baseline biological information on the fishery benefits of creating and enhancing these habitats in the northwest Gulf of Mexico.

Isotope Geochemistry of Texas Coastal Waters
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, USD 220,365
Collaborating institution: Texas A&M University
Texas has 400 miles of coastline, and growing evidence shows extensive areas of hypoxia (critically low oxygen) as well as a buildup of nutrients within this complex coastal ocean of bays, estuaries, and barrier islands. This project uses an underwater glider to conduct sampling, providing an early and late summer overview of coastal Texas water column carbon and nitrogen source variations, and examine how they contribute to water column hypoxia. This project will complement sampling scheduled for summer 2016 under a separate grant.

Developing a Predictive Ecosystem Model for the Lower Laguna Madre
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USD 213,956
Collaborating institution: Texas State University
This project will develop an ecological modeling system for sustainable management of the Lower Laguna Madre, a data-poor yet ecologically important region of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Marine Microbiome as a Sentinel for Ecological Health and Resiliency
The University of Texas Medical Branch, USD 186,224
Collaborating institution: Texas A&M University at Galveston
This project will establish a baseline of diversity and species composition in microbial communities, microscopic populations of bacteria, fungi, algae, and other microorganisms, in near-shore Gulf of Mexico environments, and monitor changes associated with oil pollutants.

Texas OneGulf Center of Excellence Pilot Project Program
Texas A&M University Health Science Center, USD 150,000
Collaborating institution: The University of Texas Medical Branch
The Texas OneGulf Disaster Research Response Program will create, for the first time, an infrastructure to support disaster research response encompassing environmental, human health, and economic assessment capabilities. The project will provide seed money for pilot projects that can be deployed rapidly to assess the effect of disasters along the Texas Gulf Coast in real time.

Socioeconomic Indicators for Coastal Community Disaster Response and Resilience
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, USD 125,060
This project will identify socioeconomic indicators that can be used in disaster response assessments by bringing together leading expertise in this area to populate a searchable database of indicators for community and human well-being, working with the Gulf of Mexico National Estuarine Research Reserves to apply these in a local context, and publishing online and in print a guide to socioeconomic indicators for disaster response and community resilience.

Red Tide Data Integration Project
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, USD 103,650
When harmful algal blooms such as red tide algae grow and disintegrate along the Texas coast, their neurotoxins may become an aerosol, causing adverse effects that can significantly increase emergency room traffic and visits to doctors. The Texas Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) Data Integration Project will team up Texas researchers with expertise in HABs and medical researchers familiar with data about the effects of HABs on humans to work together to better prepare first responders, emergency rooms, and the medical system in responding to red tide events, minimizing human health risks.

Texas OneGulf Network of Experts Communications
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, USD 81,390
Collaborating institution: Amazee Labs
This grant will develop and implement a communication strategy that includes the existing Gulf of Mexico web portal GulfBase.org to enhance the ability of the Texas OneGulf Network of Experts (TONE) to inform all Texas stakeholders about its capabilities and expertise. TONE is a network of more than 150 Texas experts in human health, science, marine policy, and related fields convened to work to tackle Gulf problems. The goal of this tool is to facilitate communications among researchers, policy makers, and the general public.

Impact of Environmental Criminal Enforcement on Disaster Response
University of Houston Law Center, USD 80,251
Collaborating institution: Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
This study will aid future responses to environmental incidents and releases in the Texas Gulf region by shedding light on the true risks of environmental enforcement after disasters and offer suggestions on how best to promote effective and speedy disclosure and cleanup in light of those risks. This research will assemble a database of all major industrial disasters in the United States since 2000, focusing on incidents that have occurred in the Texas Gulf region.

Species Identification Training for Effective Monitoring and Management of HABs
Texas A&M University at Galveston, USD 60,000
Collaborating institutions: Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System
Effective monitoring and management of HABs, over growths of algae that can affect ecosystems and human and animal health, relies on accurate and timely identification of the species involved. However, many trained in this specialty are either retired or retiring. This program will provide critical comprehensive training in identification and taxonomy for scientists, technicians, and managers.

21 Jul 2016

Insider Threats Discussed at Cybersecurity Panel

Despite the significant and growing threat of cyberattacks oil and gas producers face, there is a persistent lack of awareness and understanding of the vulnerabilities present in the industrial control systems used for energy production and distribution operations. A panel of experts discussed the potential cybersecurity risks companies face from malicious actors, as well as risk mitigation strategies and emerging security standards in a session, “Cyber Security Assurance: Data and Critical Infrastructure Protection,” held at the 2016 Offshore Technology Conference.

Andrew Howard, director of the Cyber Technology and Information Security Laboratory at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said cybersecurity risk is a pressing concern for all sectors of the industry, and that companies should not place the burden of handling cyberthreats solely on their information technology (IT) departments.

“It’s no longer just an IT problem,” Howard said. “It’s a multidisciplinary problem that covers just about every field. When we talk cybersecurity to complex organizations, it’s no longer about the IT channel. It’s also the upstream, the downstream, and the finances. It’s in human resources. It spreads over the entire organization, and it’s everyone’s problem.”

A common misconception companies have with regards to cybersecurity is that the “air gap,” or the physical isolation of a secure computer network from unsecured networks, is an effective strategy. Howard said a dedicated security protocol focused on physical systems must include basic cyberhygiene and asset inventory capabilities, even if it is not connected to unsecured networks.

Dawn Cappelli, vice president of information risk management at Rockwell Automation, said the biggest security threats companies face are from insiders, typically disgruntled former employees with technical knowledge and a personal predisposition to cause harm.

“People will cross that ethical line and steal your information because they rationalize in their mind why it’s OK: ‘I created that, that’s mine.’ Most people will not cross that ethical line, but the people who do tend not to get along well with other people. You have to walk on eggshells around them. They don’t take criticism well,” Cappelli said.

21 Jul 2016

Early Implementation Key To Combating Cybersecurity Threats

By Stephen Whitfield, Oil and Gas Facilities Staff Writer

The business networks and technological systems that make up data-driven oil fields are susceptible to outside attacks and potential failures. As cyberattackers find ways to exploit the vulnerabilities in present security systems, the industry continues to develop more robust cybersecurity controls to protect its assets. It is important to implement these controls early in the project life cycle, an expert said.

During a Society of Petroleum Engineers webinar, “Protecting the Digital Oil Field From Emerging Cyber Threats,” Ayman al-Issa outlined various controls companies may put into the designs of their digital infrastructures. Al-Issa is the chief technologist of industrial cybersecurity at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Al-Issa said the nature of the cybersecurity threat has expanded beyond the spread of viruses and stealing data. Hackers now possess the capability to, among other things, increase pressure in a pipeline, change the parameter settings of field devices, close and open motorized valves, and cause a denial of service attack within an incident command system. An effective process control security system could be critical to preventing a disaster.

Companies help open the doors for potential attacks by incorrectly assuming a low security risk. Al-Issa said that, among other things, some companies presume they are not likely targets or that their business is not interesting enough to attract attention from hackers. They believe that having a proprietary production system, or isolating that system from other systems, provides an extra layer of security. However, as some sectors in the industry develop a more technologically integrated ecosystem, al-Issa said the risk of attacks will continue to increase.

“We need to realize that these attacks are not science fiction. They are realistic. Companies have started to realize the concern with critical infrastructures. We do have to take things more seriously, and we have to find ways to secure those critical infrastructures,” he said.

Read the full story here.

View the webinar here.


15 Jul 2016

Hazardous Industries: Expanding the Culture of Safety




When banks began to investigate the potential offered by the Internet some 20 years ago, forward-looking experts saw how products and services could be tailored to individual customer wishes. By analyzing online behavior, they could provide advice and suggestions perfectly in line with individual clients’ needs. However, a significant number of people from the banking industry were certain this would never happen. People would be far too concerned about sharing personal information or conducting transactions online.

This assumption was soon proven wrong. What’s more, the vast uptake of social media has shown that most people don’t think twice about sharing their—often very personal—data. There is an ongoing debate about security and reliability and the measures being taken to guarantee them. The public, the press, government bodies, Internet providers, financial institutions, and security experts are engaged in a lively debate. Threats are publicized, and measures taken are communicated and evaluated.

More than Measures
How does this approach compare to industries that deal with hazardous substances? Here, stakeholders including managers, employees, the press, the government, shareholders, and the general population have a real need for current, reliable information on safety and the measures taken to enforce it. The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Companies have an obligation to protect their employees. Insurance firms and shareholders and the general public also have a keen interest in closely guarded safety measures. Consequently, you might think there would be as much debate on the topic of industrial safety as there is around online privacy, identity theft, cybercrime, or hacking. Instead, the consensus seems to be that safety is not an issue, as long as there are sufficient protective measures in place. Most people seem to assume all is well when it comes to the safety of potentially hazardous industrial installations. But exactly which measures are in place? Just how secure are they, really? How are they deployed and updated? Which technological tools and controls are used to check their effectiveness? How are the people using them trained?

Check and Double Check
Consider this: A fire at a chlorine plant can affect the safety of an entire large city. Imagine a few dozen chemical companies and utilities placed close together, as is the case at countless industrial location worldwide. At each of these, thousands of safety-related actions are carried out every day.

Of course, in hazardous industries, safety is paramount. Procedures are in place, rules are scrupulously observed, ongoing education and dialogue are stimulated, reporting is transparent, and every company actively strives toward a culture of safety. Best practices are shared, and trade associations, executives, and employees are aware of risks and correct procedures. However, there is often a real risk that information is not accurate and outdated documentation doesn’t reflect the current situation. What’s more, decisions that need to be made can be incredibly complex. One might have to weigh processes dependencies, current status of work, the consequences of delaying work, and much more.

The only way to be absolutely certain nothing goes wrong is to carefully check and double check each individual action. That is why processes are continuously monitored, with alarms and sensors at every step.  However, it is vital that we realize that, although information technology is closely monitored, the human intervention required to carry out maintenance is not. In a tightly regulated area such as industrial safety, even the slightest error can have far-reaching consequences. During shift handovers, somebody, at some point, is guaranteed to forget to pass on important information. All too often, hazardous industries rely on informal processes and manual reporting.

In practice, a plant manager or operations manager, who is responsible for security processes, has to balance many different tasks and responsibilities around the clock. If you have to handle hundreds of work permits a day, you cannot cross-check each of them manually. Those responsible for safety have limited options in the area of software and tools that help them carry out their jobs properly. Of course, companies have huge volumes of processes documentation and guidelines. But this actually has an adverse effect. Because everything is written down, a false sense of security is created.

Root Causes
However strict the measures taken and the awareness of all those involved, industrial activities can never be completely free of risks. There is a huge difference between simply laying down guidelines and actively pursuing a culture of safety. The latter includes checking whether rules are followed and taking immediate action when this is not the case.

Risks need to be analyzed and mapped in the greatest possible detail and appropriate mitigation measures must be taken. However, safety management, monitoring, and control should not be added as an afterthought. These elements are just as important as the measures themselves. Without the right tools and controls in place, precautions have very little practical value. Embedded software, for example, can make the difference between simply listing guidelines or actual constant monitoring and improvement.

Companies should dedicate substantial time and resources to constant evaluation and updating of safety processes as well as finding root causes and acting upon them immediately. Technology, such as permit-to-eork and control-of-work software, is pivotal in supporting decision making by providing reliable access to the right information at the right time.

In addition, there must be an ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders. Not only should companies, investors and safety experts be open and transparent, the press, national and local governments, special interest groups, and the general public should voice their concerns and expect these to be addressed. As one hazardous industry employee put it: “Every day is another narrow escape.” In 10 years, I believe we will look back and wonder how this easy-going attitude to safety regulation was possible. Not unlike how the financial industry might look back at the initial concerns regarding online security.

eVision Industry Software is the global leader in control-of-work software. It helps high-risk industries improve control over their operational processes by delivering fully auditable, real-time corporate risk management as well as increased operational efficiency. eVision has clients on every continent and is headquartered in The Hague, The Netherlands, with offices in the Middle East and Australia and a global partner network.

12 Jul 2016

New Guidelines Published for Transferring Personnel Offshore


A new guidance document published by the Marine Transfer Forum, “Offshore Personnel Transfer by Crane—Best Practice Guidelines for Routine and Emergency Operations,” aims to support an international market that performs more than 5 million passenger transfers every year.

Personnel are transferred to an offshore rig using a crane. Photo credit: iStock.com/AndrCGS.

Personnel are transferred to an offshore rig using a crane. Photo credit: iStock.com/AndrCGS.

Developed by EnerMech, DNV GL, Reflex Marine, and Seacor Marine, the guidelines benefit from a range of expertise reflecting the key roles in ensuring safe and efficient marine transfer operations.

The development of the guidelines involved a period of detailed industry consultation. The International Marine Contractors Association, the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), and Damen Shipyards also made key contributions, ensuring the guidelines reflect best practices and are relevant to the growing marine renewable energy sector as well as traditional offshore sectors.

Simon Hatson, chairperson of IOSH’s Offshore Group, said, “We welcome the publication of these new guidelines. The offshore industry is one in which workers face many inherent risks, but all workers, irrespective of their industry, should be covered by a culture of care. These guidelines will assist operators in continuing to protect the safety and health of employees who face risk on a daily basis. IOSH is delighted to have been able to have an input in their development.”

“Market conditions, new technologies, evolving logistics demands in offshore wind, and increasing industry trends toward marine- vs. helicopter-based logistics all bring the case for marine transportation methods into sharper focus,” said Robin Proctor, client support manager with Reflex Marine and the company’s main contact for the Marine Transfer Forum. “This guidance will help operators review the options and implement the most appropriate solutions.”

View the guidelines here (PDF).


Read more about the Marine Transfer Forum here.

7 Jul 2016

President’s Column: Minimizing Impact


Last December, I had the pleasure of returning to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and touring the giant Manifa oil field. Manifa produces a heavy, sour crude oil from six, long (up to 40 km), stacked reservoirs in shallow water. The shallow waters have abundant sea grasses and corals and are teeming with marine life. Shrimping and fishing are important parts of the local economy. The development of the Manifa field is a fascinating story showing how creative solutions can minimize impact on the environment.

Manifa was discovered by Saudi Aramco in 1957. The discovery well targeted both the shallower formations productive in the large Safaniya coastal field and the deeper Arab formations so productive onshore. Neither zone was productive; however, the discovery found excellent productive layers in between, including three that were only produced in small volumes onshore and three that had never before proved productive. The heavy, sour crude was similar to Khursaniyah, one of the three major types of crude present in large quantities in the kingdom. Demand was less for this crude than for Safaniya and Arab crudes, but the market for heavy sour crudes was improving. The first development was in 1962, and the field was brought on-stream in 1964. The field produced for 20 years before being mothballed in 1985 because of low demand.

Manifa’s history can be contrasted with that of Prudhoe Bay in Alaska. While specific reserve estimates for Manifa are not public information, both fields are very large. The Prudhoe Bay field was discovered in 1968 and did not begin production until 1977. Prudhoe production peaked at approximately 1.5 million BOPD in 1989. Prudhoe Bay crude averages 27.6 °API and had a significant domestic market to serve. Manifa crude is 26–31 °API and has from 2.8 to 3.7% sulfur content, with less of a market at the time. It is fairly astonishing that roughly comparable fields would go down such radically different paths.

Manifa would remain mothballed until 2006. Saudi Aramco redeveloped the field consistent with a very long life production time horizon for its large reservoirs. But the old way of approaching shallow offshore fields would not be acceptable.

The design and operations practices of the Manifa oil field enable high production with minimal environmental impact.

The use of jackup rigs in these shallow waters would have required excessive dredging, and the size of the reservoir eliminated the possibility of effective development from the shore. A new approach to development would be needed. A creative plan to develop man-made islands connected by a causeway would allow conventional onshore rigs to be used to develop this offshore field.

A long causeway was considered, but early designs would have decreased water circulation vital to distributing nutrients and oxygen vital to marine life. With more than 4 million man-hours of work in the design phase, a solution was developed to build 27 man-made islands connected by 41 km of causeways. To ensure needed water circulation, the causeway does not go all the way across the bay and 14 bridges were built into the causeway to further improve circulation. Production commenced in 2012 ahead of schedule and under budget in a development that earned a UNESCO Environmental Responsibility Award nomination.

It is an impressive development, of which Saudi ­Aramco is rightly proud, with eventual production capacity of 900,000 BOPD or more. As our helicopter approached the massive processing facility, I looked at the three large flare stacks. There was nothing being flared. Was the field shut-in? No, the design and normal operations of the field use all of the produced gas, and creative operations practices mean that almost no gas is flared. Excess electricity produced by the facilities goes into the power grid.

Walking to the edge of the offshore islands, I looked into the crystal blue-green waters. They were much clearer than the waters at the Pacific island resort I had come from a few days earlier. I was struck at how small the impact of a 900,000‑BOPD facility could be.

This production volume is comparable to the individual Eagle Ford, Bakken, and Permian Basin unconventionals. Not a fair comparison to be sure, but the contrast was striking. As I have flown over the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the vastness of the surface impact of more than 16,000 wells is notable. Major unconventional plays cover huge areas, and most wells to date have not been drilled from multiple-well pads.

Individual well productivities and reserves for unconventionals are far lower than in the Middle East, or even Alaska, requiring orders of magnitude more wells to develop comparable reserves or production. In 2014, the combined production of the Bakken/Three Forks (North Dakota) and Eagle Ford (south Texas) plays was more than 2.4 million BOPD, with proved reserves of just under 11 billion bbl of oil. These reserve estimates are likely to grow, perhaps one day equaling or exceeding Prudhoe or Manifa. Subsequent drilling will need to minimize impact through techniques such as these:

  • Making better use of pad drilling to decrease surface impact
  • Minimizing traffic
  • Optimizing the use of flowback and produced water for subsequent hydraulic fracturing operations
  • Eliminating fugitive methane emissions and flaring

Close cooperation with regulators is one step forward. As regulators use both “carrot” and “stick” approaches to reducing impact and maximizing economic and technical recoveries, operators should be able to see clear priorities for subsequent developments. With current prices, activity levels and capital investments have dropped dramatically. This decrease in activity provides us a chance to carefully analyze our own performance and identify ways of improving performance when prices recover to acceptable levels.

A significant number of unconventional wells drilled have not proved commercially viable. How can we find ways either to improve their performance—through better geosteering, alternative completion approaches, or otherwise—or to eliminate their drilling? The well that is not drilled has the least environmental and economic impact of all. Some production logs have indicated that a significant number of hydraulic fracture stages contribute very little to wellbore inflow. These logs may be misleading, or perhaps those apparently non­producing stages helped to increase the production at subsequent stages. But guessing is not good enough. Existing integrated natural fracture, hydraulic fracture, geomechanical, geological, and reservoir flow models continue to have incomplete physics. Now is the time to solve these problems and find ways to produce the massive unconventional fields in North America more safely and economically, with minimal environmental impact, and to make unconventional fields around the world more viable.