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The Role of Sustainable Development Planning in Our Industry

Published October 15, 2014

Sustainability, nontechnical risk, environmental and social performance, as well as corporate (social) responsibility are interrelated terms that refer to an important set of competencies viewed as increasingly strategic in value for the oil and gas industry. Over the past 15 years, sustainability as a term has matured from its initial “green” scope to embrace social agendas and has evolved from being an external force to become a set of organizational values and operating principles that govern development and operations in the oil and gas sector. A plethora of standards, guidelines, and good and best practices have been created by various sectors with the oil and gas industry being one of the most active in evolving its own guidelines. Both corporate strategy and corporate risk management have identified opportunities and risks and built in new checkpoints in their processes.

Elements of a sustainability management system.

Consequently, securing and maintaining a license to operate (as well as growing the commercial value beyond this threshold) extends well beyond legislative and regulatory permitting to encompass both the mitigation of adverse social and environmental effects as well as the advancement of financial, societal, and environmental benefits by the execution of strong sustainability performance. Significant to this is the new organizational refinements on, not just the license to operate, but also new phrasing such as “social license to operate” and “permission to operate” with the accompanying strategic financial benefits of becoming a preferred developer or operator.

Given the increasing prominence of sustainability in the oil and gas industry, SPE embarked on a path in 2010 when it created a Sustainability Task Force to

  • Explore SPE’s role and strategy in addressing sustainability.
  • Explore SPE’s role in encouraging a methodical approach to sustainability for our industry.
  • Generate proposals for the SPE Board to direct resources to address identified needs and opportunities.
  • Fully participate in global sustainability discussions as an enthusiastic participant and contributor and not as a passive observer.

Automated Well Ignition Increases Safety for Well Blowouts

Published October 1, 2014

As demand and footprint of the oil and gas industry increases, the distance between facilities and populated areas diminishes. Companies also have to move into critical fields (high pressure and high hydrogen sulfide concentration). This means that special hydrogen sulfide protection measures need to be in place not only to ensure the safety of onsite workers but also to protect nearby communities.

The United Safety VulQan is a unique product designed to perform well blowout ignition.

The presence of hydrogen sulfide creates unique challenges for oil and gas operators, including the specialized drilling systems required and the health problems caused when hydrogen sulfide is released into the atmosphere.

A multitude of mechanical and procedural measures are in place to prevent any release. The standard hydrogen sulfide safety systems on the work site consist of detection measures to give early warning of hydrogen sulfide presence and breathing air equipment that the workers can put on for escape or to work safely in the presence of the gas.

“There is a long history of learning and progress with these onsite systems, and, overall, they are very effective when operated and maintained properly,” said Mike Gilbert, vice president, Middle East, for United Safety.

However, despite safety measures in place, accidents may happen. A blowout, for instance, occurs when the crew loses control of the well because of complications during drilling, allowing a free flow of gas or oil from the wellbore into the atmosphere. A large volume of hydrogen sulfide toxic gas can be released hundreds of feet in the air in a very short time. This gas cloud, or plume, is carried by the wind and will settle on lower grounds (hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air), creating very immediate health hazards or even death for anyone in its path. For example, a hydrogen sulfide blowout in Chuandongbei gas field in central China in 2003 resulted in an area of more than 25 km² being covered with high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, killing 243 people, seriously injuring 9,000, and displacing more than 64,000 from their homes.

To avoid the consequences of a blowout, a combination of gas detection, safe evacuation, and well ignition (when necessary) is the best solution. Elie Daher, executive vice president for United Safety, explains “not one single safety measure can be ultimately effective in addressing hydrogen sulfide protection. There needs to be comprehensive planning and continuity in the measures taken from start to finish of these challenging projects.”

Depending on the magnitude of the blowout, the well may need to be ignited. When the hydrogen sulfide gas is burned, the byproduct, sulfur dioxide, is carried higher into the atmosphere by the heat and, therefore, disperses more readily, resulting in lower ground concentrations.

Therefore, a safe well-ignition solution needs to be part of any comprehensive critical well safety management system. Traditionally, this is done by a trained individual using a flare pistol from an estimated safe distance.

“As you can imagine, a blowout is an extremely dangerous, messy, and violent event. We’ve responded to many of them in our time. To put a human being in harm’s way to ignite these blowouts is becoming a thing of the past and is unnecessary with today’s modern technology” Gilbert said.

In order to ignite the well safely, companies can rely on automated well ignition systems. In the event of a blowout, once the work site is evacuated, the designated person will activate the well ignition from a control unit, placed in a safe area. Once activated, there is a variable delay before the system discharges into the gas cloud, allowing time for personnel to retreat to a safe distance. The system will continue to discharge flaming gel at preset intervals to ensure continued and complete ignition of the well.

“There is no question, safely igniting the well release as soon as possible is the fastest and most effective way to reduce immediate danger to the communities and workers” Daher said.

Seminar Examines Global Decommissioning

Published September 18, 2014

How do you go about decommissioning three interconnected offshore platforms in the UK North Sea, composed of almost 100,000 t of topsides and 40,000 t of jackets, together with abandoning more than 100 wells and hundreds of kilometers of pipelines? Carefully, and unless you want to break the bank, differently.

Christie

The Global Decommissioning seminar will be from 1130 to 1300 hours on 16 October at the Petroleum Club in Houston. Registration to attend the event in person is USD 40, but the seminar will be presented live online for free.

Speaker Jim Christie will talk about the three important C’s to consider in decommissioning—compliance, collaboration, and contracting.

Christie is global decommissioning projects manager for Marathon Oil, responsible for the company’s asset-retirement portfolio. He joined Marathon in 1984 and has worked mostly on upstream and downstream capital construction projects in the Middle East, southeast Asia, Japan, Africa, India, Europe, and North America.

Before assuming his current position, Christie was responsible for project assurance for capital construction and decommissioning projects.

He holds a BS degree in construction from Robert Gordon University, a BA degree in management from The Open University, an MBA degree from Heriot-Watt University, and an MS degree in project management from Aberdeen University.

Health, Safety, and Environment Study Group Examines Vent Gas Management

Published September 2, 2014

A new federal air quality rule governing midstream and upstream activity is in effect, and an SPE seminar is set to discuss the opportunities, technologies, and solutions involved.

Jeff Voorhis from Hy-Bon Engineering and Audrey Mascarenhas, president and chief executive officer of Questor Technology, are scheduled to speak at the seminar from 1130 to 1300 hours on 23 September at the Petroleum Club in Houston. The seminar also will be streamed live on the Internet for free.

The rule, also known by its more formal citation 40 CFR Part 60 Subpart OOOO, or “New Source Performance Standards Subpart Quad O” contains new regulations and revisions to existing statutes. This rule will have a major effect on how the oil and gas industry has been operating regarding waste-gas emissions.

Reverberations will be felt across the industry from these more stringent rules governing upstream exploration and production segment as well as the midstream segment. Air emissions from oil and gas resource development have been drawing increased attention by many concerned parties, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the states, industry, and the public. EPA regulations are being implemented to quantify the emissions from oil and gas operations and control the emissions of pollutants and contaminants. Industry is taking action to minimize emissions while the public is concerned with potential health effects. Improving well performance and operations now needs to include emission reduction as a integral function. Understanding waste emissions and turning them into possible positive cash flow assets is the opportunity.

Vent gas management is an area companies need to explore to increase their bottom line and reduce liability. The technology, techniques, and reliability has greatly improved, making it profitable in many cases. All nonproduct output going to waste needs to be put back in the product stream for profitable green production. New technologies are keeping pace to eliminate or control these emissions. Many of these technologies are economically feasible while maintaining compliance. This talk will be on opportunities, solutions, and techniques in vent gas management. The event is also a chance to ask tough questions to a former regulator and get straight answers.

Voorhis joined Hy-Bon Engineering in 2012 and has been using his oil and gas permit expertise to overcome regulatory barriers. In May 1990, he joined the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, where he provided engineering and technical assistance on pollution prevention in the United States and Mexico. Voorhis holds a BS degree in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Kingsville Texas A&M University.

Mascarenhas joined Questor in 1999. Before then, she held various technical, business, and management positions during a 17-year tenure with Gulf Canada Resources, presently Conoco-Phillips. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto in chemical engineering and holds a master’s degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Calgary.

 

Seventh Middle East HSE Conference Introduces Sustainable Development

Published August 28, 2014

The seventh SPE Middle East Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainable Development Conference and Exhibition will be held 22–24 September in Doha, Qatar. In addition to an executive plenary session, the conference will feature seven panel sessions and 20 technical session.

Across the corporate world there is a growing focus on good governance and HSE performance as a source of both risk and competitive advantage. The conference will demonstrate how integrating environmental innovation and engineering services along with safety and risk management will underpin safe operations, environmental sustainability, and ultimate success of oil and gas companies. The conference will be the first of its kind to include sustainable development as one of the core discussion topics.

The opening ceremony on 22 September will include remarks by His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, minister of energy and industry of Qatar; Saif Al Naimi, conference chairman and director for HSE regulations and enforcement for Qatar Petroleum; Barton Cahir, president and general manager in Qatar for ExxonMobil; and Jeff Spath, 2014 SPE president.

The theme of the executive plenary session, set to begin at 1100 hours on 22 September, is “Protecting People, Environment, Asset, and Reputation—Are We Prepared?” At the session, industry leaders will address the challenges of optimizing business performance, reducing risk, and protecting people and the environment.

The moderator will be Saif Al Naimi, director of HSE regulations for Qatar Petroleum, the conference’s host organization. The panelists will be Jim Zimmerman, vice president for ExxonMobil Research Qatar; Jassim Abdulla Jassim Al-Mohannadi, onshore operation manager for Qatargas; Steve Norton, general manager of health, safety, environment, and social performance for Qatar Shell; and Tom Knode, director of HSE standards and performance for Halliburton.

This plenary session will address the following questions:

  • How can we demonstrate a better management and mitigation of safety and environmental risks?
  • How can we perform more effectively and develop and implement a more efficient organization to improve environmental and safety performance?
  • How can we optimize operational efficiency across our portfolio in order to increase output from limited resource and protect our assets?

The seven panel sessions will address the topics of HSE Management (Disaster Management/Crisis Management); Business Case for Managing Health; Climate Change; Establishing Organizational Belief in HSE; Sustainability Reporting Within the Middle East; Best Practices in Water Management; and Process Safety Approach in the Middle East (Including Safety Cases and Asset Integrity).



Inherent Flaws in Risk Matrices May Preclude Them From Being Best Practices

Published August 18, 2014

Risk matrices (RMs) are among the more commonly used tools for risk prioritization and management in the oil and gas industry. RMs are recommended by several influential standardization bodies, and a literature search found more than 100 papers that document the application of RMs in a risk-management context. This paper illustrates and discusses inherent flaws in RMs and their potential effect on risk prioritization and mitigation, addressing several previously undocumented RM flaws.

Introduction

In the oil and gas industry, risk–intensive decisions are made daily. In their attempt to implement a sound and effective risk-management culture, many companies use RMs and specify this in “best practice” documents. Furthermore, RMs are recommended in numerous international and national standards such as those from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); NORSOK, the Norwegian standards organization; and the American Petroleum Institute (API). The popularity of RMs has been attributed in part to their visual appeal, which is claimed to improve communications.

Despite these claimed advantages, the authors were unable to find instances of published scientific studies demonstrating that RMs improve risk–management decisions. However, several studies indicate the opposite—that RMs are conceptually and fundamentally flawed.

The complete paper summarizes the known flaws of RMs, identifies several previously undiscussed problems with RMs, and illustrates that these shortcomings can be seen in SPE papers that either demonstrate or recommend the use of RMs.

Group To Examine Potential Health Effects From Producing Unconventional Resources

Published August 15, 2014

Unconventional resources offer many substantial benefits, yet the rapid increase in production of these resources using hydraulic fracturing has generated scrutiny by some policymakers and advocates who cite health concerns. The Exploration and Production Health Issues Group was recently formed to provide research, scientific analysis, and guidance on health issues regarding unconventional-resource production (URP). The group is particularly focused on community health concerns, including those associated with the compositions of hydraulic-fracturing fluid and flowback, effects on aquifers, air emissions, and psychosocial stress related to operations.

Chemical Disclosure

Opinion polls have found that community residents are most concerned about the possibility of drinking-water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The idea that fracturing fluids of unknown composition are pumped underground through groundwater is the cause of that concern. A key issue for the industry to address is communicating the full nature of this risk while maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary chemicals used. The composition of fracturing fluids is the intellectual property of companies that develop the wellsite. The skill required to identify the right fluid composition for particular fracturing operations is what keeps those companies in business. But the need to protect some portion of fluid compositions as confidential business information (CBI) has been exploited by some opposed to URP to spread fear about unknown toxic chemicals and the harm they may cause.

To address this challenge, the Groundwater Protection Council, an organization of state regulators, created FracFocus. FracFocus is a Web-based chemical disclosure registry where the nonconfidential chemicals used in fracturing for a particular wellsite are posted for public viewing. In many states, the use of FracFocus to disclose nonconfidential chemicals is mandatory. Some segments of the URP industry believe that additional steps must be taken to develop criteria to assess the suitability of a chemical for use in URP from the perspective of health, safety, and environmental effects, and they have been working to develop criteria and a user-friendly tool to implement those criteria in URP operations. While some chemicals will continue to be identified as CBI under existing regulations and policy, operators and service companies would apply the established criteria of suitability for hydraulic fracturing. The objective is to encourage continued development of new and improved fracturing fluids while maintaining the intellectual–property protections of the companies that develop them and enhancing public confidence that protection of health and the environment is integrated into the selection of chemicals.

The balance between the legitimate need to keep certain information confidential and the processes by which compositional information is provided to experts on a need-to-know basis should be communicated better to the public to help build and maintain trust.

Validation of a Biological-Monitoring Design in Highly Diverse Tropical Forests

Published August 14, 2014

Biological-monitoring programs provide data for decision making and to ensure the protection of resources. However, in tropical ecosystems that are home to most of the planet’s biodiversity, these programs need to be improved in design and implementation. Block 57 in the Amazon rain forest of southern Peru is an ecosystem with limited information. A systematic biological-monitoring program was designed on the basis of a gradient of disturbance caused by clearing an area.

Introduction

Fig. 1—Block 57 in Cusco, Peru, on the southern Amazon plain.

Oil exploration in Block 57 involves clearing small forest areas during installation of drilling platforms. One of the consequences of this clearing is an increase of edges and the presence of habitats with early successional stages. An edge is defined as a transition zone between two adjacent ecosystems or vegetation communities. In these edges, deleterious effects may be generated.

A biological-monitoring plan has been designed as part of an environmental-management plan to understand the effect that the changes in the habitat associated with the exploratory wells within the primary cloud forests have on the abundance, richness, and diversity of the local flora and fauna.

Study Area

Fig. 2—Panoramic view of the Kinteroni BX platform.

Block 57 is on the southern Amazon plain and the first foothills of the eastern slope of the Peruvian tropical Andes Mountains (Fig. 1). This is one of the areas with the greatest precipitation and highest temperatures and relative humidity in Peru. At several locations, total annual precipitation exceeds 3000 mm. Relative humidity exceeds 90% in the mornings, and temperatures commonly exceed 37°C in the afternoons during the dry season when the sky is clear.

The study area is in the buffer zones of the Otishi National Park and the Ashaninka and Machiguenga Community Reserves. It is predominantly hilly, with mountainous areas in the western sector and terrace areas near the Tambo and Urubamba rivers. Floral composition in the study area is very heterogeneous with different densities. Palm trees are another representative and varied group in these forests, sometimes rising above the canopy.

The work design includes three platforms in Block 57—Kinteroni BX, Mapi LX, and Mashira GX. This study includes the results of monitoring conducted on the surroundings of the Kinteroni BX exploration platform, also known as Sagari (Fig. 2).

Water-Resource-Management Guide Offers Method for Identifying, Managing Risk

Published August 13, 2014

While water issues are often location- and situation-dependent, a standardized guide to water-resource management has been developed for upstream oil- and gas-production projects and operations. The guide provides environmental, regulatory, and socioeconomic practitioners with a consistent and effective method to identify, assess, and manage water-resource-related risks and opportunities. The guide has four steps, each with embedded and scalable tools—data acquisition, data analysis, risk assessment, and risk management.

Introduction

The availability and quality of fresh-water resources, coupled with increasingly stringent regulatory requirements in many locations, continue to challenge the oil and gas industry. Accordingly, the industry recognizes its responsibility to surrounding communities and to the environment regarding its management of fresh water. One company’s water-resource-management program is built upon a framework of principles designed to help manage interactions with water in order to

  • Protect human health and the environment
  • Consider local water needs when addressing operation requirements
  • Continuously improve technologies, practice, and performance
  • Engage stakeholders in development of sustainable water solutions

In order to provide environmental, regulatory, and socioeconomic practitioners with the knowledge and methods to implement these principles, an upstream water-resource-management guide was developed. The guide does not contain any new requirements but rather is intended to function as a road map for practitioners to help them manage water resources more effectively within the context of existing internal requirements and external considerations, constraints, and requirements.

The objectives of the guide are to

  • Enhance the quality of data gathered regarding the use of water resources
  • Identify and manage water-related risks
  • Assist in the application of appropriate technology and operational practices to improve water-use efficiency and safeguard water quality

Recommended Practice for Reliability, Technical Risk, and Integrity Management

Published August 12, 2014

The American Petroleum Institute Recommended Practice 17N (API RP 17N) provides a structured approach that organizations can use to manage risk and uncertainties related to reliability and integrity performance throughout the life of a project. The basic approach is simple and consistent and has the potential to reduce the financial risk of designing, manufacturing, installing, and operating subsea equipment or systems. This paper presents the principles and approaches used in API RP 17N and discusses what it is in general and why it was written. It also describes the status of its recent update.

Why API RP 17N Was Originally Developed

Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, there were widespread concerns relating to the reliability of subsea technologies. A number of operators of subsea fields were experiencing equipment failures that had significant adverse effects on production. Many of these failures occurred in the early stages of production and involved more than one component.

Although there are elements of chance in all accidents and failures, when actual failures are studied, the root causes always amount to a failure of management to identify, assess, or manage the risks that they faced. Moreover, the causes of failure cannot be leveled at one organization.

To ascertain the root causes, it would be necessary to address industry reliability-management practices not only during operations but also at the design stage, where there is the greatest opportunity to influence component- and system–reliability performance. Tackling the problem on a company-by–company basis was also not viable. Likewise, it was not realistic for suppliers, with a wide customer base, to invest in reliability-management practices to meet the requirements of just one or two customers in particular. What was required was some form of guidance on reliability and its management that the whole subsea industry and its supply chain could buy into. This was the reason for the development of API RP 17N.

Wireless Hydrogen Sulfide Sensor Uses Nanotechnology To Improve Safety In Oil and Gas Facilities

Published August 11, 2014

Real-time monitoring of pollutant, toxic, and flammable gases is important for health and safety during petroleum-extraction and -distribution operations. Currently, many methods exist for detecting such gases, but most sensors suffer from slow response times, high power consumption, high costs, or an inability to operate in harsh conditions. This paper demonstrates a small, low-cost, low-power, highly sensitive nanomaterial-based gas sensor specifically targeted for the detection of hydrogen sulfide.

Introduction
Current personal monitors for hydrogen sulfide are typically electrochemical-based sensors because of their low power consumption, relatively small size, and satisfactory selectivity. However, electrochemical cells typically have fairly slow response times and are prone to degradation or errors at extreme temperatures and humidity. Semiconducting-metal-oxide (SMO) sensors have fast response times and simple interface electronics and can operate in harsh conditions, making them a mainstay of industrial monitoring. However, the power required to operate a conventional SMO sensor is typically hundreds of milliwatts. Therefore, operation of a handheld monitor using conventional SMO sensors is not feasible for long-term monitoring. To overcome this problem, the authors have fabricated very-low-power microheaters and functionalized them with tungsten oxide nanoparticles to create an hydrogen sulfide sensor suitable for long-term battery-powered operation.

Control-System Cybersecurity: Staying Ahead of Evolving Threats

Published August 8, 2014

The benefits of modern industrial control systems have never been greater. However, as these systems have evolved, the threats to their safe and secure operation have grown. While the return on investment for a complete control-system security audit may be difficult to calculate, the cost of not having a complete plan in place may, if a worst-case condition arises, be impossible to comprehend. A baseline system security image, as a start, allows a vessel owner or operator to understand the security risks.

Introduction

A diver-support-vessel control system suddenly loses position control and begins to drift while the divers below are put in harm’s way. A programmable–logic controller on the vessel’s dynamic–positioning system had entered an error state and flooded the primary and backup control networks with erroneous data, knocking all connected systems offline. Before control is restored, the vessel is 200 m from its station and one diver has been left unconscious on the template bailout and the other is stranded in the diving bell. The unconscious diver is rescued by his companion from the diving bell once the vessel arrives back on station. Is this a scene from a movie? Unfortunately not; it was a recent, real-world failure. Just as unsettling is the fact that the root cause of the network jamming was never identified.

While viruses, Trojans, worms, and backdoors have been generally associated with Web servers, personal computers, and phones with access to the Internet, serious concerns about cyberphysical attacks on industrial control systems have also been raised—attacks that could result in conditions similar to the loss of positional control just described.

Offshore assets with complex operational capabilities, such as floating production, storage, and offloading vessels; drillships; and semisubmersibles, while not necessarily targets for national–security-based malicious attacks, are nevertheless high-value targets whose compromise may have high-consequence results. Control systems onboard the vessel demand real-time operation, interference with which may result in costly and even life-threatening situations.