Safety Debate Eyes Taming Bakken Crude Before It Hits Rails

Source: The Globe and Mail | 13 May 2014

After a spate of fiery derailments, the scramble to make North Dakota’s Bakken crude oil safer when it is being transported on trains has focused on better tracks, slower speeds, and reinforced rail cars that bypass urban areas.

But, that is starting to change. A potentially more effective approach, which would remove the most volatile elements from the crude before it is being loaded onto rail cars, is now beginning to get attention, both from regulators considering safety enhancements and some lawmakers, industry executives say.

It is too soon to say if regulators, who say all options are on the table, will end up requiring Bakken crude to be stripped of flammable natural gas liquids (NGLs) before it moves by rail.

But, degassing Bakken crude for rail would be costly. Companies would need to spend potentially billions of dollars on small processing towers known as stabilizers that shave off NGLs from crude and build pipelines to carry the NGLs to a viable market.

Right now, little of that infrastructure exists in the Bakken, which produces about 950,000 B/D of crude for thirsty coastal refineries, with 67% of that moving by rail.

“The issue of whether or not producers should be required to stabilize the product after it comes out of the wellhead and before it’s loaded into a railcar is starting to come up in conversations at the Senate staff level,” said a refining industry executive in Washington.

Executive Says Human Error Accounts for 80% of Offshore Accidents

Source: Fuel Fix | 13 May 2014

Four of every five major offshore accidents are caused by human errors, highlighting the need to make safety the backbone of any offshore company’s corporate culture, an Anadarko Petroleum executive said Monday.

“You can’t fix stupid,” said Jim Raney, director of engineering and technology at Anadarko. “What’s the answer? A culture of safety. It has to be through leadership and supported through procedures—a safety management system.”

The other 20% of offshore accidents are caused by mechanical or structural failures.

Raney spoke during an offshore safety panel at the inaugural event of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) at the University of Houston on 12 May. The OESI was formed by three Texas universities and originally planned by regulators after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

New safety regulations and even the industry’s own risk assessments on oil and gas operations, he said, aren’t enough if oil companies don’t take action on what they learn. Oil companies should not just file 1,000-page reports with regulators “and say ‘we did it!’ ” Raney said. “Where’s the call to action? That’s where it’s deficient” in the offshore industry.

Risk assessments—always imperative to offshore operations—allow companies to outline all the different scenarios that could occur during drilling or other operations. But in an odd way, risk assessments can be detrimental to oil companies’ development of safety cultures because, once they are complete, operators believe they’ve done all the work they needed to do, he said.

“It’s not sufficient by itself,” he said. “Are our problems in tools? Are our problem in reliability of structures? No, our problems are in people. The issue is doing the right thing at the right time.”

Robotic, Solar Surfboard-Like Drones Could Make Offshore Safer

Source: The Wall Street Journal | 13 May 2014

Energy companies drilling in deep water from the US Gulf of Mexico to offshore Angola in West Africa are deploying surfboard-like drones—powered by solar panels and propelled by wave action—as their latest weapon against offshore problems such as oil spills.

Oilfield service company Schlumberger showcased the Wave Glider at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. The devices have powerful sensors that can detect oil leaks seeping into the ocean and remotely monitor pipelines and other equipment thousands of feet below the water line, beaming data back to operation centers by satellite.

Offshore drones could make drilling safer, said Liquid Robotics, the Sunnyvale, California, company partnered with Schlumberger to sell Wave Glider services to energy clients. But the origin of the idea for the gliders was far afield from how oil and gas companies can use them today.

US Federal Government Failed To Inspect Higher-Risk Oil Wells

Source: The Associated Press | 12 May 2014

The US government has failed to inspect thousands of oil and gas wells it considers potentially high risks for water contamination and other environmental damage, congressional investigators say.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press before its public release, highlights substantial gaps in oversight by the agency that manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands.

Investigators said weak control by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) resulted from policies based on outdated science and from incomplete monitoring data.

The findings from the Government Accountability Office come amid an energy boom in the country and the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing.

The audit also said the BLM did not coordinate effectively with state regulators in New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.

API Outlines Fire Risks to Oil, Gas Drillers

Source: UPI | 25 April 2014

The American Petroleum Institute (API) announced it published new industry guidelines to help identify fire risks associated with oil and natural gas development.

API published Recommended Practice 99, which identifies and highlights ways to reduce the risks associated with flash fires during the exploration and production phase of US oil and natural gas development.

API Standards Director David Miller said the recommended practice will help companies and operators identify and reduce the risks of accidents before they happen.

“Industry standards developed by API help our industry achieve its daily commitment to operate safely and responsibly,” he said in a statement on 23 April.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the potential for flash fires increases when operators reach zones containing oil or natural gas. OSHA said that, if the pressure from underground is not contained, there is a “high potential” for fires because of the presence of ignition sources in and around the drilling platform.

Blast at US LNG Site Casts Spotlight on Natural Gas Safety

Source: Reuters | 9 April 2014

An unexplained blast on 31 March at a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in rural Washington state, which injured workers, forced an evacuation, and raised alarm about a potentially large second explosion, could focus attention on the risk of storing massive gas supplies near population centers.

The incident at Williams’s massive gas storage site is a rare safety-record blemish among the dozens of US LNG plants and storage sites, including towering tanks in packed neighborhoods of New York City and near Boston.

Energy industry experts and opponents of new LNG plants alike said it may spur debate about safe handling of gas for cities increasingly reliant on the clean-burning fuel. At least a dozen new US LNG export facilities are seeking government approval, and some have faced opposition on safety grounds.

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.