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1 Dec 2016

New EPA Regulations Issued To Curb Methane and VOC Emissions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Nov 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

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

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

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

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

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

10 Nov 2016

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

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

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

Read the full paper here (PDF).

8 Nov 2016

Column: Engineering a Safer World

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

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

I agree with her.

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

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

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

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

The accident model in common use today makes these assumptions:

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

This accident model is questionable on several fronts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The four required conditions for control are:

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

Fig. 2—A Control loop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The STPA process is as follows:

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

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

The Safety-Guided Process

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

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

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

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

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

Next, identify the environmental constraints:

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

Other constraints:

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

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

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

Step 1: Identify potentially hazardous control actions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 Nov 2016

Moving Closer to True Picture of the Fugitive Methane Problem

A valve station on a natural gas pipeline in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania. Researchers in the US may be approaching a solution for determining how much natural gas is seeping into the atmosphere. Credit: Getty Images.

A valve station on a natural gas pipeline in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania. Researchers in the US may be approaching a solution for determining how much natural gas is seeping into the atmosphere. Credit: Getty Images.

But if government regulators and some environmental groups are applauding the transition from the most carbon-intensive fuel source to the least, they are holding back on a standing ovation.

The reason is that a raft of scientific studies published over the past few years shows that too much natural gas is being lost into the atmosphere at different points all along the supply chain—potentially canceling out the climate benefits of utilizing gas over coal.

But environmental researchers and industry alike have had trouble defining the true scope of this problem, termed fugitive methane emissions, because of the disparity in data gathered from oil and gas sites through aerial flybys vs. surface observations. These are, respectively, known as top-down and bottom-up measurements.

As a percentage of gross production, bottom-up studies show methane losses may average around 1.5% while estimates from top-down studies range anywhere from 2% to 17%.

The goal for a number of producers is to get those numbers down to less than 1% in order to mitigate the negative impacts of methane, which is at least 25 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

Potential ‘Breakthrough’
Karen Olson, the director of strategic solutions at Southwestern Energy, the third-largest producer of natural gas in the US, announced that researchers may be close to reconciling top-down and bottom-up measurements earlier this month at a workshop organized by the International Energy Agency in Austin, Texas.

Without elaborating, she told attendees: “We’ve actually had a breakthrough and now have a correlation based on actual measurements from onsite vs. the flybys.”

Olson was presumably referencing a new “peak emissions” hypothesis that emerged from a multimillion-dollar methane emissions study funded by the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America  (RPSEA). Southwestern along with three other operators participated in the project, which was led by researchers from the Colorado State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The full findings are expected to remain unpublished until early next year, but the hypothesis contends that the emissions averages generated using aerial data are higher because they are based on methane that was emitted during short-lived events that took place in the morning.

These episodic bursts of emissions are believed to occur as the morning shift arrives to start up or adjust production equipment. So while aerial measurements may be accurate, this new concept suggests that, to get a truer average of daily emissions rates, the temporary nature of these morning events must be fully understood and taken into account.

If this idea holds up, then it could be an important factor in determining how the industry and other groups look at top-down and bottom-up data in the future. It may also mean that the experts can go back to all the data already gathered to see if they now tell a more accurate story.

Too Many Measuring Methods  
Desikan Sundararajan, a senior researcher of environmental management at Statoil, highlighted in his remarks at the workshop what life as a scientist working on this problem has been like without such a correlation. He found that there are more than 300 research papers on the subject of fugitive methane emissions and said “the beauty of it is that not a one of them agrees with each other.”

Sundararajan explained that one of the reasons for the disparity between a number of top-down studies has been that the researchers are using too many different instruments to take measurements; typically the ones they are most familiar with.

There is also an apparent tendency among the researchers in this area to be the first to publish a new, first-of-its-kind approach, he added. “That does not help the industry. It does not help the stakeholders or the policy makers,” Sundararajan said, stressing that there needs to be more congruence with how methane emission data are gathered.

4 Nov 2016

Energy4me Named Best Outreach Program at 2016 World Oil Awards

SPE’s Energy4me program won top honors in the Best Outreach Program category at the World Oil Awards in Houston. The awards ceremony, now in its 15th year, seeks to recognize and honor the upstream industry’s top innovations and innovators.

Energy4Me's award for best outreach program.

Energy4Me’s award for best outreach program.

Also being honored by World Oil, Nathan Meehan, 2016 SPE president, received the Lifetime Achievement award. This award is bestowed on an individual who has made both significant strides and impacted the oil and gas industry throughout his or her career.

In all, awards were given out in 18 categories that encompass the full breadth of the upstream industry. Today’s innovations, many of which would have seemed far-fetched a generation ago, are enabling operators to find and produce hydrocarbons more safely, economically, and efficiently.

“I’m so very proud of the work that Energy4me accomplishes in classrooms and workshops around the world,” said Glenda Smith, SPE vice president for communications. “Under the leadership of Liz Johnson, the Energy4me team of Kim LaGreca and Zunaid Jooma delivers online educational resources to educators while helping students learn balanced information about the industry.”

Also vying for the best outreach program award were PetroChallenge at NExT, a Schlumberger company, and the VIP Consultant Program at Paradigm.

In awarding the program, the World Oil Awards said that the program has “increased awareness and, through its workshops, created opportunities for students to enter the industry. The program has contributed, by using hands-on activities, to the increased interest and passion of the students, leading them to choose engineering as their career path.”

The judges also said that Energy4me’s hands-on activities ensure that many students will be exposed to the various career paths in the industry and will contribute to increasing manpower and available human resources in the future.

Energy4me and World Oil share a commitment to oil and gas education. Each year, the World Oil Awards endows a leading university that provides education for careers in the petroleum industry, with much-needed funding to equip the next generation of innovators. Since the inception of the World Oil Awards, donations have been distributed to 32 universities as varying as the University of Houston and the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. This year’s beneficiary is the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University in Houston.

Visit Energy4Me here.

4 Nov 2016

National Academy of Science Report Looks To Boost Offshore Safety Culture

In May 2016, the National Academy of Science (NAS) released a report entitled “Strengthening the Safety Culture in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry.” This report offers recommendations to the industry and regulators to strengthen and sustain the safety culture of the offshore oil and gas industry. The report presents a definition of safety culture for government regulators and industry to adopt, discusses the elements of a strong safety culture and ways for assessing it, identifies barriers to strengthening safety culture, and offers recommendations to overcome these barriers.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued a policy in 2013 that defines safety culture as “the core values and behaviors of all members of an organization that reflect a commitment to conduct business in a manner that protects people and the environment.” The policy articulated nine characteristics of a robust safety culture:

  • Leadership commitment to safety values and actions
  • Respectful work environment
  • Environment of raising concerns
  • Effective safety and environmental communication
  • Personal accountability
  • Inquiring attitude
  • Hazard identification and risk management
  • Work processes
  • Continuous improvement

This NAS report provides a list of detailed recommendations for both regulators and industry that will contribute to and foster a positive and sustainable safety. The details of this study and its accompanying recommendations can be found in a summary entitled “Beyond Compliance.”

Download the summary here.

Find the full NAS report here.

3 Nov 2016

Piper Alpha Survivor Shares Experience



Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae will discuss his thoughts and experiences from the disaster during a webinar set for 15 November. Rae’s presentation, titled “Piper Alpha—Accident or Predictable Surprise,” will examine how safety can be improved by everyone in the industry as individuals by accepting personal accountability and adopting a more proactive approach to work and safety.

Piper Alpha, a North Sea oil-production platform that had been converted to produce gas as well, was destroyed by explosions and the resulting fires on 6 July 1988, killing 167 people. The disaster has been considered a turning point for safety in the industry and continues to influence HSE design and considerations. Rae, who survived by jumping from a platform 80 ft into the sea, was one of 61 survivors.

Register for the webinar here.

2 Nov 2016

Efficiency, Innovation Needed for Sustainability Initiatives

Despite the rise of unconventionals, major offshore projects will continue to make up the bulk of new production, an expert said. As governments around the world seek to lower energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions in the wake of the low oil price environment, the industry must be proactive in ramping up its sustainability efforts in its offshore projects.



In a presentation, “Price of Oil—Sustainability and Innovation,” held by the SPE Gulf Coast Section’s Projects, Facilities, and Construction Study Group, 2016 SPE President Nathan Meehan discussed the issues affecting sustainability initiatives across the industry. Meehan is a senior executive adviser at Baker Hughes.

Efficient operations are the key to successful sustainability initiatives. Meehan said energy efficiency improves every measure of sustainability, because conservation and efficiency improvements lower the need for oil and gas to satisfy the primary global energy demand. To that end, the low oil price environment is harmful to sustainability because the prices drive demand for oil and reduce demand for alternative sources of energy as well as the demand for improved conservation measures.

Meehan said a lack of standardization in facility design is a significant factor in the lack of efficient facility construction schedules and operations. The learning curve for new facilities should decrease as operators repeat the execution of a standard blueprint. However, given the variations of geographic properties between offshore fields, a standard design is extremely difficult; the design template may be too small for some fields and too big for others.

“If you want to lower the costs and time to make something, you need to make a bunch of things that are exactly the same,” he said. “If you’re making a bunch of one-offs, you don’t get any better at it. Even if you just make one-offs all the time, you don’t get better. That’s a bit of a problem.”

Standardization should play a role in sustainability efforts, but Meehan said it is difficult for the industry to agree on which standards it should adopt. He said operators have a difficult time standardizing internally to begin with, making any efforts to collaborate with other operators even more of a challenge. Conversely, in areas where companies have agreed to standardization, the effect has been immediate, but the competitive costs were low.

“There are competitive factors, and then there are factors where you could say people have not been pushed to the point where they have to lower that cost,” he said.

In addition to standardization, Meehan said the industry must improve its efforts to develop creative solutions to operational inefficiencies. He said that engineers are skilled at improving existing technologies, which can be useful for lowering project costs and increasing efficiency. However, innovation is where companies can see significant gains. Meehan cited nanotechnology and high-temperature electronics, such as circuit boards, as areas of focus.

“This is globalization. We’ve got something, we’re going to make more of them, we’re going to make them cheaper, we’re going to make them smaller, faster, with higher pressure. Something used to work only at 4,000 psi, and now we’re going to make it at 10,000 psi, and so on. You used to build something for USD 20 million and now you can do it for USD 10 million. But the real difficult part is … this real kind of innovation,” Meehan said.

25 Oct 2016

Harnessing CO2 Content in Natural Gas for Environmental and Economic Gains

Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and usage (CCU) is currently a global topical issue and is viewed as one possible route to reduction of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. The core issues facing the world in current times—development, economy, and environment—are identified as being dependent on the provision of clean, efficient, affordable, and reliable energy services. Currently, the world is highly dependent on fossil fuels for provision of energy services, and the amount of which renewable energies can sufficiently replace is minimal.

The deployment of appropriate CO2-separation technologies for the processing of natural gas is viewed as an abatement measure toward global CO2-emissions reduction. Selection of the optimum technology among the several separation technologies for a particular separation need requires special attention to harness the economic and environmental benefits. The captured CO2 would also require appropriate disposal or usage so as to sequester or “delay” its re-entry into the atmosphere. These challenges of CCU— involving natural gas particularly during processing, which has become an area of intense research—shall be discussed in the paper with respect to the selected technique for CO2 capture. A typical natural- gas-production scenario in Nigeria shall be analyzed for potential CO2 capture. Further discussion shall be on the identification of the recovered CO2 gas-usage framework, such as CO2 flooding (in enhanced oil recovery), for additional revenue generation, assessment of the CO2 savings, and the contribution to the clean development mechanism.

Read the paper here (PDF).