Regulators Confront Industry Skepticism on New Safety Hotline

Source: FuelFix | 2 April 2014

Federal regulators are pleading with the oil industry to ‘fess up when they dodge big accidents on offshore production platforms, rigs, and drillships.

The pitch—set to be delivered in meetings with industry leaders later this month—comes nearly 8 months after the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement first pledged to create a system for tracking near-miss incidents that could be a harbinger of bigger safety problems in offshore oil and gas development.

Bureau officials say the confidential program, being developed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is critical to learning more about close calls offshore and averting future accidents. But because it’s a voluntary program, industry buy-in is essential to making it work.

“The voluntary, confidential near-miss reporting system has the potential to help prevent catastrophic incidents that endanger lives and the environment,” said safety bureau Director Brian Salerno in a statement. “However, the tool is only as good as the information provided.”

Column: Zero Accidents Does Not Equal Safety Excellence

Source: ProAct Safety | 31 March 2014

A newly hired safety professional asked the CEO of his organization what was expected of him, and the answer he got was “excellence.” When the new safety guy asked the CEO to elaborate, he replied, “When you get to zero accidents, come back and see me.” It seems that the term “excellence,” as it applies to safety is commonly misunderstood and poorly defined. So, what is excellence in safety performance? Is it simply a vacuum in which there are no accidents? Is it a short-term success? How will we recognize it when we see it? How can we achieve it if we don’t understand what it truly is?

First, it is important to realize that “zero accidents” or any improvement in accident frequency or severity is a lagging indicator of safety. It is a result and not the process that produces it. It can be achieved through excellent performance, but it can also be achieved by luck or normal variation in accident occurrence. It can also seem to have been accomplished by suppressing reporting through intimidation or artificial stimuli such as bonus and incentive programs. Also, because most organizations qualify the term to include a certain classification of accident such as “zero recordables” or “zero lost-time accidents,” it can be manipulated several other ways in reporting practices and post-accident management.

There are three elements missing from many views of safety excellence that are absolutely critical to a true understanding and definition of the term: strategy, process indicators, and culture.

Offshore Energy Industry Fights Complacency on Safety

Source: Forbes | 31 March 2014

Has offshore drilling gotten safer since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico almost 4 years ago? That was the question that hung over a conference last week in Aberdeen, Scotland, sponsored by the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

The Another Perspective onRisk conference grew from a social media exchange on LinkedIn in which industry participants, from executives to rig workers, weighed in on their perceptions of how the industry deals with risk.

While a lot of attention has been focused on process safety in recent years, one of the themes of the conference was that offshore companies tend to grow complacent the farther removed they become from an accident. What’s more, many have been reluctant to share information at operational failures. Lessons learned from accidents like the Deepwater Horizon disaster tend to be limited as a result.

One speaker noted that the drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico that follow the accident should have been viewed as a “safety stand-down,” an industrywide exercise in pausing operations, assessing risks, and adjusting operations accordingly. Instead, many companies operating in the Gulf chose to simply attack the Obama administration for enacting the moratorium in the first place.

Innovative Vehicles Ensure Safety While Transiting Through Red Zones

Source: United Safety | 17 March 2014

Red zones are high-risk areas, usually encountered where oil and gas from high-pressure or highly sour wells are being produced.

The Air Qruise Rover, left, and Solo were introduced at the 2014 International Petroleum Technology Conference in Doha, Qatar.

The Air Qruise Rover, left, and Solo were introduced at the 2014 International Petroleum Technology Conference in Doha, Qatar.

These areas offer increased likelihood of an atmosphere that is immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) because of the presence of toxic or flammable gases. Some of the criteria used to define a red zone are probability or severity of toxic or flammable gas releases, how much gas can be released in a defined amount of time, and location of the site in terms of adjacent work and proximity to local communities overlaid with projected dispersion pattern of the potential release.

Red zones have much tighter safety criteria than the remainder of the work site. While each facility’s parameters for setting or defining red zone’s may be slightly different, it is becoming common policy in H2S red zones that personnel must be under air continuously (made difficult by the fact that these can be vast areas), tools must be explosion proof, and entry is highly controlled.

Despite these strict safety requirements, operations in red zones must go on, and standard or emergency maintenance must be carried out from time to time. In addition, the potential for accidents and personnel emergencies also exists, so significant challenges also exist around executing timely evacuations or rescues.

A major challenge is ensuring that people transiting through or working in these red zones remain safe at all times.

The first solution is gas detection. Equipment has evolved substantially in the past 20 years, and there are currently very accurate means of detecting most toxic gasses before they reach IDLH levels. Early detection is intended to allow personnel time to react to impending IDLH conditions and evacuate or protect themselves accordingly.

When safe evacuation is not possible, the alternative is protection by providing breathing air. Despite numerous improvements in the equipment, cascade system tethered air has limited range, while self-contained air is bulky and has limited capacity and range.

As the industry matures and health, safety, and environment regulations tighten, solutions must evolve through innovation, becoming more agile, accurate, and reliable and allowing for a quicker safety response in any situation that may present itself.

One such innovation is the concept car Air Qruise Rover, launched by United Safety at the 2014 International Petroleum Technology Conference (IPTC), in Doha, Qatar. It uses the same technology of the Air Qruise Trooper, the first vehicle of the Air Qruise family launched at the 2013 Abu Dhabi International Exhibition and Conference. The Trooper is designed to transport people through low- and medium-risk areas, detect hazardous atmospheres, warn the occupants, and provide sufficient air supply for a swift evacuation.

The Air Qruise Rover, however, takes this technology to a new level. It is powered by compressed air and designed to operate safely and reliably in potentially toxic and explosive atmospheres. Equipped with the latest in environmental monitoring, it can track a multitude of sensor inputs, including wind speed, wind direction, location using global positioning satellites, toxic gas levels, vehicle status, and operator biometrics. Information can be transmitted to offsite facilities for monitoring and analysis. The Rover can provide long hours of breathing air without compromising mobility, which is ideal for situations when work needs to be carried out inside red zones.

Another feature that grabbed the attention of IPTC visitors was that the Rover is adapted to carry the Air Qruise Solo, a compact personal transport system that has onboard gas detection, integrated breathing air, and storage space. The Solo is highly maneuverable and ideal for constricted spaces the Rover cannot access.

The Air Qruise line of mobile air safety solutions fills a critical gap in worker safety in IDLH environments because, up until now, there was no optimal way of protecting staff while in transit or inside vast red zones. Elie Daher, executive vice president of United Safety, said, “The technology is highly flexible and can be adapted to an array of vehicles and configuration requirements in terms of breathing air time, sensor types, and range. It considerably increases the protection of workforce inside and near red zones, and we hope it will encourage the development of a new safety standard in the industry.”


Safety Alerts, Recommendations In Wake of Crude Oil Rail Accidents

Source: BakerHostetler via Mondaq | 14 March 2014

Recent accidents involving rail cars transporting crude oil from the Bakken shale region have resulted in the heightened interest of rail industry regulators and other federal agencies, including the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In January 2014 alone, PHMSA issued a safety alert addressing the flammability characteristics of crude oil originating from the Bakken shale formations and the NTSB issued two letters containing safety recommendations to both FRA and PHMSA.

The PHMSA safety alert and NTSB’s safety recommendations arrived on the heels of (a) FRA’s 2 August 2013 Emergency Order 28, which addresses safety issues related to unattended rail cars carrying Bakken crude oil; (b) FRA and PHMSA’s 2 August 2013 joint safety advisory 2013-06, which contains additional recommendations for railroads and shippers to implement improved safety measures for the transport of Bakken crude oil; and (c) FRA and PHSMA’s second joint safety advisory, published on 20 November 2013, which discusses the importance of proper characterization, classification, and selection of a packing group for Class 3 materials and the corresponding requirements in the Federal hazardous materials regulations for safety and security planning.

The purpose of this article is thus threefold: first, to examine the impetus underlying industry regulator’s piqued interest in the transport of Bakken crude oil and describe the factual background surrounding recent rail incidents (for the purpose of placing NTSB, FRA, and PHMSA’s safety-related communications in context); second, to summarize the NTSB’s recent, though nonbinding, recommendations to FRA and PHMSA; and third, to summarize the recent safety alert issued by PHMSA in January 2014 as well as similar safety alerts that predate it.

Column: Systems Thinking Can Help Get to the Root of Accidents

Source: Chemical Processing | 6 March 2014

An often-claimed “fact” is that operators or maintenance workers cause 70–90% of accidents. It is certainly true that operators are blamed for 70–90%. Are we limiting what we learn from accident investigations by limiting the scope of the inquiry? By applying systems thinking to process safety, we may enhance what we learn from accidents and incidents and, in the long run, prevent more of them.

Systems thinking is an approach to problem solving that suggests the behavior of a system’s components only can be understood by examining the context in which that behavior occurs. Viewing operator behavior in isolation from the surrounding system prevents full understanding of why an accident occurred—and thus the opportunity to learn from it.

We do not want to depend upon simply learning from the past to improve safety. Yet learning as much as possible from adverse events is an important tool in the safety engineering tool kit. Unfortunately, too narrow a perspective in accident and incident investigation often destroys the opportunity to improve and learn. At times, some causes are identified but not recorded because of filtering and subjectivity in accident reports, frequently for reasons involving organizational politics. In other cases, the fault lies in our approach to pinpointing causes, including root cause seduction and oversimplification, focusing on blame, and hindsight bias.

Newspaper Investigation Questions Oilfield Safety

Source: Washington Post | 3 March 2014

Injury claims, government data, and public records of oilfield accidents since the start of the onshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing boom in 2007 show the federal government failed to implement safety standards and procedures, according to a Houston Chronicle investigation.

The examination also shows a lack of government inspections and shoddy practices by many oil and gas companies. The newspaper says the result is a toll of badly injured or killed workers.

Texas accounted for about 40% of the 663 workers the US Bureau of Labor Statistics said were killed nationwide in oilfield-related industries between 2007 and 2012, the Houston Chronicle reported.

In 2012 alone, the newspaper found 79 people lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns, and 675 broke bones in work-related accidents reported to insurance carriers. The same year, the 65 deaths were a 10-year high and almost 60% more fatalities than in 2011.

Railroads, Transportation Department Agree on Measures To Make Crude Shipments Safer

Source: Platts | 24 February 2014

US railroads on 21 February announced several voluntary steps they will take to boost crude-by-rail safety, including lower speed limits in urban areas and the use of rail traffic routing technology, under an agreement reached with the US Department of Transportation.

The Association of American Railroads said that, beginning 1July, trains with 20 or more tank cars carrying crude that include at least one older DOT-111 car will travel no faster than 40 mph in 46 federally designated high-threat urban areas.

The industry currently voluntarily restricts speeds of trains with 20 or more carloads of hazardous materials, including crude oil, to 50 mph.

Railroads will also begin using the Rail Corridor Risk Management System (RCRMS) to determine the safest routes for trains with 20 or more cars of crude. RCRMS, developed with the US Homeland Security Department and other federal agencies, is currently used for the routing of security-sensitive materials.

Oil & Gas UK Welcomes Helicopter Safety Report

Source: Rigzone | 20 February 2014

Industry body Oil & Gas UK has welcomed recommendations made by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as part of the organization’s safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations in support of oil and gas recovery.

The CAA announced on 20 February a series of measures designed to increase the safety of offshore helicopter flights. The changes are the result of what the organization described as “a comprehensive review of offshore helicopter operations” undertaken in conjunction with the Norwegian CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The review followed a series of helicopter ditchings in the UK North Sea in recent years, including last August’s fatal incident involving a Super Puma in which four offshore workers died.

Exxon Awards First License for Remote Gas Leak Detection System

Source: OilVoice | 19 February 2014

ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company has awarded the first commercial license for its InteliRed remote gas detection system to codeveloper Providence Photonics.

The InteliRed system is designed to improve process safety and environmental performance at oil refineries, chemical plants, liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities and other gas-processing facilities. The system employs a specially developed computer algorithm to analyze infrared camera images autonomously to detect escaping hydrocarbon gases. The InteliRed system provides an early warning alert of hydrocarbon leaks with minimal false alarms.

Providence Photonics is an affiliate of Providence Engineering headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. ExxonMobil and Providence scientists codeveloped the InteliRed system over a 4-year period culminating in field tests of the system that began last year at an LNG liquefaction plant in Qatar.


Using Smart Field Devices To Improve Safety System Performance

Source: International Society of Automation | 11 February 2014

Safety monitoring software can use data from smart field devices to improve safety system performance and operation.

  • Many process plants have smart sensors, instruments, and valves installed as part of their safety systems.
  • These smart field devices can provide a host of useful information to the safety system.
  • Safety monitoring software helps make sense of the information from smart field devices by turning their raw data into actionable information.

Any process plant that handles products, feedstock, or fuels that are the least bit hazardous (flammable, toxic, or otherwise environmentally dangerous) has safety concerns. Operating in compliance with regulations and standards is a way of life for oil, gas, petrochemical, biofuel, and many commodity chemical producers. But beyond compliance, companies want and need to protect their people, equipment, and the surrounding environment.

Applicable standards include ANSI/ISA-84.00.01-2004 Parts 1–3 (IEC 61511 Mod) and IEC 61508, along with facility-recognized best procedures and practices. Compliance with these standards ensures that the plant is not simply within the letter of the law; it helps the plant operate with minimal potential for incidents and injuries.

Undertaking this effort begins with plant hazard and operability studies and the layer of protection analysis (LOPA) methodology. Some situations may call for a quantitative risk analysis, as provided by the Center for Chemical Process Safety and indicated by ANSI/ISA-84.00.01-2004 Part 3, Appendix F.

Performing a LOPA helps identify which identified hazards require safety instrumented functions (SIFs) and the required probability of failure on demand for each to lower the risk to a tolerable level. Performing a LOPA is a main step toward ensuring that requirements under ANSI/ISA-84.00.01-2004 Parts 1–3 (IEC 61511 Mod) are met.

Once the safety instrumented system (SIS) is designed and implemented according to the safety requirement specification, its operation must be maintained and monitored to ensure integrity of the SIF and to ensure ongoing compliance with standards. Any changes to the hardware, such as new equipment, new field devices, different products, or different specified operations and processes must be taken into account using a management of change procedure. Any malfunctions or other process issues must also be accounted for, typically by proof testing and monitoring the SIS along with its associated field devices, such as sensors, instruments, valves, and logic solvers.


Report Claims Oil Trains Could Cause More Deaths Without Keystone

Source: Reuters | 4 February 2014

Replacing the Keystone XL pipeline with oil-laden freight trains from Canada may result in an average of six additional rail-related deaths per year, according to a US State Department report that is adding to pressure for President Barack Obama to approve the line.

The long-awaited study, released on 31 January, focused on the environmental impact of TransCanada’s USD-5.4-billion pipeline but also spent several pages analyzing the potential human impact of various ways to transport oil, using historical injury and fatality statistics for railways and oil pipelines.

Although it excluded the runaway oil train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last summer, the tragedy that first shone a critical light on the rapidly expanding trend in shipping crude by rail, the findings highlight the risks or railway transport vs. pipes.

Shipping another 830,000 B/D of crude “would result in an estimated 49 additional injuries and six additional fatalities for the No Action rail scenarios compared to one additional injury and no fatalities” per year if Keystone XL is built, according to the report.

Keystone XL would carry 830,000 B/D from Alberta’s oil sands to US refiners but has been awaiting a presidential permit for more than 5 years. The “No Action” options refer to the likely alternative outcomes if Obama rejects the permit or the project is not built for some other reason.

The report also showed that carrying crude by rail, instead of by pipeline, was likely to result in a higher number of oil spills and a larger amount of leakage over time.