Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | 28 May 2015

Pennsylvania Wades Into Ambiguous Area of Noise Regulation

Pennsylvania environmental regulators, who generally prefer the familiar matters of soil, air, and water, are tackling the vagaries of noise from oil and gas development and finding that rules for sound are best left loose.

The Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to require companies drilling and fracking in the Marcellus and other gas-rich shales to make and follow site-specific plans to mitigate noise from well pads.

The draft rules do not set limits for how loud operations can be at certain times or distances. Instead, they tell companies to evaluate the normal noise in an area before drilling begins and take steps to minimize noise reaching nearby residents during the temporary but cacophonous work up until the point when a well starts sending gas to a pipeline.

DEP officials say they have taken a lesson from other states and regions that have a long history of regulating noise from oil and gas operations, particularly the Canadian province of Alberta, and stayed away from establishing firm decibel limits that can seem unambiguous but are in practice difficult or unfair to enforce.

“It necessarily has to be flexible enough for the site-specific characteristics,” said Scott Perry, DEP’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, during a recent discussion of the proposal at an oil and gas advisory board meeting in Harrisburg.


7 May 2015

Five-Phase Model Aims To Maintain Psychological Well-Being While Away From Home

Oil and gas industry workers are often tasked with spending extended durations away from home while working onsite. And these absences can have a significant effect on the workers’ psychological well-being. A paper presented at the 2015 SPE Health, Safety, Security, and Environmental Conference—Americas proposed a five-phase model for managing the psychological stress of extended stays away from home.

Paper SPE 173559, by Simon Seaton and Thomas Jelley of Sodexo, breaks the experience of being away into five phases: predeparture planning, being away, preparing to return, returning, and being back. The authors of the paper had three environments in mind when considering time away from home—the military, universities, and the oil and gas industry.

“We understand, quite well I think, somebody’s physical well-being. We’d like to think of psychological well-being in the same way,” Seaton said. “What we’re trying to do is make the psychological well-being a lot more stable, a lot more managed, a lot more predictable, and try and avoid bad days and bad outcomes … and, therefore, have a workforce that is much more engaged, motivated, and clearly focused on their job at hand, which is, at times, a very difficult and challenging job.”

Predeparture Planning
Modern communication technology makes keeping in touch while away easier, but there are also potential drawbacks. Expecting that technology will mitigate separation, travelers may fail to

  • Discuss expectations
  • Say goodbye properly and acknowledge that the coming separation is real
  • Set up support networks
  • Agree on a main point of contact so the person away is not under pressure to allocate potentially little free time or communication resources to a large number of people for similar updates

The first three points can apply as easily to a parent away on a short business trip as to someone away for much longer. The last point applies especially to individuals in more difficult, longer-term absence, such as military personnel on deployment.

Being Away
While away, technology offers only an artificial sense of connectedness. Seeing someone on a screen is not the same as being together. Daily experiences at different ends of a phone or video call may be so different that real-time connection is frustrating and counterproductive.

Also, sometimes less communication is better. News of something at home that an individual cannot manage remotely can immediately and gravely affect psychological well-being. The result can be distraction, disengagement, an inability to progress, and a threat to the performance of the organization.

Preparing To Return
The front-of-mind excitement associated with preparing to return home can mask the fact that it can have an adverse effect on psychological well-being. An individual or their perceptions may not be the same as when they left home. Family and friends may also have changed—even in a short period. Going home to continue as before may not be possible, and acknowledging this in advance is a way of managing expectations and the risk of disappointment.

A period of decompression or a staged return can facilitate a soft landing (e.g., soldiers returning home from a conflict zone via a peaceful base where they can wash, relax, and enjoy leisure time as a way of unwinding in a more normal environment before going home).

Being Back
Getting home can involve little more than a flight, but it can take much longer to feel back at home psychologically. To mitigate this potential disconnection between being back and feeling back, time for adjustment is important. After a longer period away, a welcome home celebration can have a better effect on psychological well-being if it takes place after the traveler has had time to feel back home again.

Future Research
The next step for the researchers is to analyze people in the three target environments—military, universities, and the oil and gas industry. The analyses will begin with researchers asking people how they assess their own psychological well-being and then asking them what they do to maintain that well-being while away from home.

“So, rather than present the model to them and ask them if they do it, we’re going to ask, ‘What are the things you do?’ We can then take those practices and inputs and apply them back to the model and refine it a little bit more,” Seaton said. That research is expected to be conducted by King’s College London and Cardiff University.

The full paper can be downloaded from the OnePetro online library here.

Read more about Sodexo here.

Littler via Mondaq | 16 April 2015

OSHA’s New Target For SVEP: Oil And Gas Well Drilling Operations

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) isn’t exactly a new sheriff in town when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Over the past few years, OSHA has relied on several regional emphasis programs for increased scrutiny of this industry.

However, in February, OSHA’s Enforcement Director, Tom Galassi announced a new policy, whereby oil and gas well drilling, well operations, and support work are designated “high-hazard” for the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). According to OSHA, the new policy is justified because over the past 2 decades, the oil and gas industry has had a fatality rate at least five times greater than the national average for all industries.

Over a week after OSHA’s initial announcement, OSHA publicly released a February 2015 memorandum delineating more details regarding its new policy. The policy, which authorizes the addition of “upstream oil and gas hazards” to the list of High-Emphasis Hazards in SVEP, is effective for any citations that are issued on or after 11 February 2015, the date of the memorandum.

Under the new policy, a nonfatality inspection in which OSHA finds two or more willful or repeated violations or failure-to-abate notices (or any combination of these violations/notices), based on high gravity serious violations related to upstream oil and gas activities, will now be considered a severe violator enforcement case.

OilOnline | 13 April 2015

Tips To Tackle and Prevent Employee Burnout

As many oil and gas companies are doing more with less and even reducing headcount, it is common to see employees getting overwhelmed, stressed, and burned out in their jobs. While grateful to have a job, these employees could be on the path to “burnout,” with employers running the risk of impacted performance, decreased employee engagement, and increased turnover.

To compound this issue, managers tend to overload employees who are most competent. This is even more of an issue in a small to mid-sized company. Knowing this reality, how do employers buffer high-performing employees from the burnout factor?

Here are some tips to slow down the burnout rate:

  • Have a “stay conversation.” Managers need to identify key contributors and schedule time to discuss their goals, needs, and concerns. Block out time to let them know how valuable they are and how they fit into the organization going forward.
  • Avoid duplication of effort. A lack of clear procedures or processes in some companies leads to many employees trying to accomplish the same tasks. Make sure everyone is on the same page and clear about their roles and responsibilities.
  • Redistribute the work. If you have a key employee who is overbooked, look for ways to redistribute some of the less critical workload. Could another employee take it on to learn and develop from it?

imorph | 31 March 2015

Training Specialist Launches Pioneering Offshore Health Program

Imorph, the Aberdeen-based specialist training and change management provider, has launched Gloe, an innovative training program based at tackling the issues behind the growing problem of obesity facing the nation and the offshore industry.

It is a sensitive issue, which regularly hits the headlines. The Step Change Helicopter Safety Steering Group recognizes that, while this issue is not exclusive to the offshore industry, the sector does have a duty to ensure it sets workers up to succeed in the offshore environment, with health and well-being as crucial factors.

It is clear that, while operators are aware of this issue and do work to ensure that nutrition programs based on low-calorie and low-fat eating are available offshore, statistics and recent news suggest that, as with most weight-reducing measures, these measures just are not working.

Addressing the full spectrum of challenges associated with changes to diet and lifestyle, Gloe aims to improve both the health and consequent work output of offshore personnel—whatever their size—by creating a sustainable health program, developed by Imorph’s behavioral change experts, in conjunction with nutrition consultant Chris Fenn.

Caroline Hughes, director at Imorph, is enthusiastic about the fundamental changes the course can bring to the industry and beyond. “Gloe is a really exciting development for the oil and gas industry, as it’s the first course truly aimed at creating a more energized, more productive, and generally healthier workforce, which brings almost immediate health and cost benefits to the companies who undertake the training,” she said.

“It’s not just about weight loss,” Hughes added. “And it’s definitely not a lecture. It’s about practical adjustments to existing routines, and, in an industry so driven by routine, those changes are almost impossible to sustain without the knowledge and behavioral change support Gloe offers.”

With 25 years of experience, Chris Fenn understands the benefits nutrition and habit can have upon a work force. “Obesity is linked with well-known health risks and can significantly reduce quality of life and work,” she said. “It can result in the psychological challenges of depression, stress, and self-consciousness, all of which can affect interpersonal relationships, performance, and attendance at work.”

“At this crucial time for the oil and gas industry, a healthy work force performing at its optimum level is one of its greatest assets,” Fenn said.

Government of British Columbia | 27 March 2015

British Columbia Releases Oil and Gas Human Health Study

The Canadian province of British Columbia publicly released the Northeast Oil and Gas Human Health Risk Assessment Study on 26 March, announced Health Minister Terry Lake.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that the health of British Columbians is protected as we explore opportunities for economic and job growth throughout the province,” Lake said. “That is why we undertook this comprehensive study, and I am pleased to release the full report today. After careful review and analysis, the study found that the risk to human health from emissions from oil and gas activities in the Northeast remains low.”

Phase 2 of the risk assessment began in November 2012 and included a scientific literature review, a screening level risk assessment, a detailed human health risk assessment, a review of the current regulatory framework, and recommendations. Its goals were to assess the health risks associated with oil and gas activity in northeastern British Columbia and, where appropriate, to provide recommendations to fill knowledge gaps and manage risks. The Phase 2 report was presented to government in November 2014.

The human health risk assessment found there is a low probability of adverse health effects from exposures to contaminants related to current oil and gas activities. It was compiled following the standards and scientific processes recognized by Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Rigzone | 21 January 2015

Unique Maritime Group Sets Up Hyperbaric Reception Facility in UAE

Unique Maritime Group (UMG) reported that it has set up the first hyperbaric reception facility (HRF) in the Middle East, thus raising the safety level for all divers currently operating in this area to a new level.

The purpose-built system by Unique Hydra, a division of UMG, will be installed at UMG’s facility in the Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Major oil companies and dive operators with a view to using the system have already shown considerable interest, and the first contract announcement by UMG is expected before the end of the month.

Harry Gandhi, chief executive officer of Unique Maritime Group, said, “Bringing one of our state-of-the-art Hydra HRF systems to this region is testimony to our commitment for safety, diver care, and providing first-class services to the operators in this area. I am very proud that we are the first company to offer this potentially lifesaving facility and congratulate Ian and the team on the job they have done in setting this up in UAE.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection | 15 January 2015

Study Shows Little Potential for Radiation Exposure From Oil and Gas Development

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the results of a study that analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania. While the study outlines recommendations for further study, it concluded there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure because of oil and gas development.

“The study report is the culmination of a multi-year effort and represents what we believe to be the most comprehensive radiological study of the oil and gas industry ever conducted,” Vince Brisini, DEP deputy secretary for waste, air, radiation, and remediation, said. “While the recommendations for future actions contained in the report call for additional studies and efforts, we now have data to inform the management of natural gas resources and resultant wastes for environmental and health protection.”

In January 2013, at the direction of Gov. Tom Corbett, DEP began studying radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids, and drill cuttings, as well as transportation, storage, and disposal of drilling wastes. This included a study of radon levels in natural gas to ensure that public health and the environment continue to be protected.

National Center for Biotechnology Information | 15 January 2015

Technological Diseases: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Mouse Shoulder, Cervical Pain Syndrome

Technological diseases are diseases of the modern era. Some are caused by occupational exposures, and are marked with direct professional relation, or are the action of harmful effects in the workplace.

Because of the increasing incidence of these diseases on specific workplaces, which may be caused by one or more causal factors present in the workplace today, these diseases are considered as professional diseases. Severity of technological disease usually responds to the level and duration of exposure and usually occurs after many years of exposure to harmful factor.

Technological diseases occur because of excessive work at the computer or excessive use of keyboards and computer mice, especially the nonergonomic ones. This paper deals with the diseases of the neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist (cervical radiculopathy, mouse shoulder, and carpal tunnel syndrome), as is currently the most common diseases of technology. These three diseases can be caused by long-term load and physical effort and are tied to specific occupations, such as occupations associated with prolonged sitting, working at the computer, and work related to the fixed telephone communication, as well as certain types of sports.

Reuters | 17 December 2014

New York Bans Hydraulic Fracturing After Health Report

New York state will ban hydraulic fracturing after a long-awaited report concluded that the oil and gas extraction method poses health risks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration said on 17 December.

New York Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens said at a cabinet meeting that he will issue an order early next year banning hydraulic fracturing, which has been under a moratorium since 2008. Once that happens, New York will join Vermont as the only states to completely prohibit the practice.

The decision ends what has been a fierce debate in New York over the benefits and pitfalls of hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. Many in the state saw gas drilling as a key economic resource while others argued it was too dangerous.

The state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, said there is not enough scientific information to conclude that hydraulic fracturing is safe.

“The potential risks are too great, in fact not even fully known, and relying on the limited data presently available would be negligent on my part,” Zucker said.

Oil Online | 16 October 2014

Oil & Gas UK Publishes Ebola Guidelines

Oil & Gas UK has published guidelines for mitigating the Ebola risk. Alix Thom, employment and skills issues manager at Oil & Gas UK, said, “While we believe the overall risk to the UK is low, Oil & Gas UK is addressing concerns about the Ebola virus by issuing guidance to our members on how to respond to the potential risk to the health and safety of our workers in the UK offshore oil and gas industry.”

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure personnel receive appropriate advice on avoiding Ebola infection before deployment to Ebola-affected countries.
  • Ensure that personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries are reminded to seek medical attention if they are unwell, or become unwell within 21 days of return, and that personnel should tell the doctor they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
  • Maintain a list of personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries to assist in government screening procedures.
  • Remind personnel not to proceed offshore if feeling unwell, unless they have sought medical advice first, and that personnel should tell the doctor if they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
  • Delay any intended visit to a UK offshore installation for a worker who has been (for work or personal reasons) to an Ebola-affected country until a period of 21 days has passed since their return.
  • Seek assurance from their medical adviser/contractors (where relevant) that they aware of Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland advice on clinical assessment of suspected Ebola cases.

Houston Business Journal | 15 October 2014

Exxon Cuts Travel to West Africa Amid Ebola Fears

ExxonMobil has restricted nonessential travel to Liberia and Nigeria because of the Ebola virus. Non-Liberian employees were rotated out of that country over the summer and continue to work in other locations.

“We are taking appropriate health and safety precautions with our national staff in Liberia, including providing the capability to work from home,” said Richard Keil, an Exxon spokesman.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of Irving, Texas-based Exxon, has said the spread of Ebola in Africa could affect the company’s ability to drill the first offshore well in Liberia.

“Travel restrictions into and within the country have severely limited our ability to progress plans for drilling,” Keil said. “We remain committed to exploring Block 13 when conditions in Liberia improve.”