Exclusive Content

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.

Program Ranks Musculoskeletal Risk of Operating Valves in Process Industries

Published August 7, 2014

Every process plant presents a high number and diversity of valves that control the flow of feedstock, products, and service liquids and gases. A comprehensive program was developed for a major US refinery to assess the musculoskeletal risk associated with manually operated valves then to rank each valve according to the risk each poses to plant operators and maintenance technicians. Valve repair and replacement is expensive, so the cost-effective approach was to assess only those valves that are critical to plant operation.


Process plants contain a large number of process valves with a wide diversity of designs that control the flow of a wide range of fluids. The ergonomic issues associated with the design, operation, and maintenance of valves include

  • Physical stress to open and close them
  • Potential for injuries and subsequent related costs
  • Lack of access to process-critical valves
  • Difficulty of removing and replacing them
  • Potential for process upsets when valves cannot be operated in the time required

As a result of injuries suffered while operating valves, a major US petroleum-refinery company initiated a program to identify high-risk valves and to modify them to reduce the operating risk of injury.

Fig. 1—Systematic approach to working with valves in process operations.

A model, illustrated in Fig. 1, was developed to create a systematic approach to identify the valve issues in a process plant, analyze the issues, prioritize the valves that need attention, implement a solution, and measure the results. The approach can be modified to reflect the unique character of the plant that implements the program.

The objectives of the study were to

  • Develop a valve-risk-assessment program unique to the process plant based on the plant’s human-factors engineering-design standards and the valve-assessment model.
  • Assist site personnel in identifying the process-significant valves and surveying them to determine the top candidates for repair or replacement.

Process-significant valves were those that met the following definitions:

  • Frequently operated—valves that are operated more than four times per year
  • Operated in an emergency—emergency block valves, emergency isolation valves, battery-limit valves, depressuring valves, and dump valves
  • Manual, gear-operated valves
  • Large valves—valves with valve wheels ≥24 in. in diameter
  • Manual block valves and bypass valves around control valves

Latin American, Caribbean HSE Conference Opens Call for Papers

Published August 5, 2014

The SPE Latin American and Caribbean Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainability Conference, to be held 7–8 July 2015 in Bogotá, Colombia, serves as a unique environment for professionals involved in planning, implementing, monitoring, and maintaining the life cycle of oil and gas projects in the region, where extremely sensitive environments and social challenges exist.

Authors can share their experiences in health, safety, security, environment, and sustainability as it relates to oil and gas by submitting a paper proposal for consideration. Proposal can be submitted online until 28 October.

The conference will explore state-of-the-art technologies and their effects on sustainability (balancing economic growth, social development and, environmental protection). Outstanding challenges and experiences in health and safety for successful execution of oil and gas projects in increasingly demanding working environments will also be addressed.

If a proposal is accepted, the authors will have the opportunity to present the technological advances, share experience, and have the paper included in the conference proceedings and in the OnePetro intersociety online library.

Learn more about the conference here.

Submit a paper proposal here.

Presentation Follows Execution Phase of Major Capital Project With Eye Toward Safety Assurance

Published July 23, 2014

On 21 August, SPE will present the webinar “Major Capital Projects—Increasing Safety Assurance in Construction, Load Out, Transportation, Installation, Hookup, and Commissioning” for free, coinciding with a live presentation in Houston by Steve Frampton, construction and commissioning manager for Marathon Oil’s Global Projects Organization. The presentation, sponsored by SPE’s Gulf Coast Section, and Webinar begin at 1300 hours EDT and will last approximately 75 minutes.

The challenges and opportunities facing operators planning major capital projects in today’s oil and gas environment include turnkey contracting strategies, global supply chains, evolving technologies, increasingly stringent regulations, competition for scarce resources, and inflationary pressures, to name a few. These factors have the potential to affect personal and process safety performance, directly or indirectly, throughout the project’s lifecycle.

The implementation of a formal stage-gate project management system and decision quality process is critical to alleviating project risks; assuring operational excellence; and improving constructability, operability, and maintainability of the future asset. By way of example, this presentation will examine the execution-phase activities of an offshore major capital project, from design and engineering through to construction, installation, hookup and commissioning.

Frampton has worked for more than 30 years in international offshore developments and production operations. He joined Marathon Oil in 1981 and supported the design, engineering, construction, offshore hookup, and commissioning of the Brae North Sea platform complex, enabling an initial production rate of approximately 100,000 BOPD from each platform.

After the North Sea project, Frampton joined the design team in Houston for the Sakhalin 2 project (100,000 B/D) before relocating to South Korea for the construction and onshore commissioning phase. He eventually served as offshore installation manager on Sakhalin 2. Frampton’s next project involved the management of construction activities of the Marathon Equatorial Guinea Production onshore gas facility (950 MMSCFD/70,000 B/D) on Bioko Island in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. At the end of the construction phase, he stayed with the project, becoming operations superintendent. In 2006, Frampton relocated to Gabon as operations manager for Marathon’s Tchatamba offshore assets. In 2010, he joined the Marathon Norway Operations group for a short time before moving back to Houston. The last 4 years have seen Frampton work on new projects for Kurdistan and Equatorial Guinea. His current assignment is the new Alba Compression Platform (950 MMCFD), offshore Bioko Island, which will be field-commissioned in 2016.

Frampton holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) and completed an indentured apprenticeship with Rolls Royce Limited (Aero division) in the UK.

Find details and register for the in-person event here.

Register for the free Webinar here.

Ensuring Public Protection From Toxic Gas Releases

Published July 14, 2014

The expansion of the oil and gas industry comes with inevitable coexistence with communities. Several health concerns result from this proximity—for instance, contact with contaminated water or polluted air. One hazard, however, stands out: the potential release of toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide or hydrogen sulfide.

“Through the years, companies have been developing solutions for safer operations of oil and gas facilities that face toxic gas risks, often learning lessons the hard way. Organizations typically plan for any potential leaks and have measures in place to protect their site employees and contractors. With an increasing number of operations occurring in highly populated areas, there is now more focus on community protection measures,” said Elie Daher, executive vice president of United Safety.

What can companies do to ensure the safety of surrounding communities in the event of a toxic gas release?

The first point is ensuring operations are run as safely as possible, in order to avoid incidents. Safety personnel ensuring compliance with safety policies and adequate safety equipment should be on site. If toxic gas is present in drilling, production, or refining operations, companies should ensure all workers are oriented on site-specific hazards, emergency preparedness, and responsibilities and that people accessing critical zones have the proper training.

Nonetheless, even with precautionary measures in place, unplanned releases may still happen. In order to minimize external effects, companies need to work on community protection.
The first step is to determine the reach of a potential release. As toxic gases leak in the air, solar heating/radiative cooling determined by cloud coverage and latitude from the equator, wind speed and direction, surface roughness, terrain, and height from the ground are all factors that will affect where the plume will be headed and whether it will reach a populated area in a concentration that is harmful to the community. In addition, density of population in the area, access and egress routes, and source elements such as diameter, initial jet density, velocity, proximity, obstacles, and fallouts are important when estimating or predicting the dispersion of this toxic gas and its effect on a nearby community.

Map of emergency planning zone.

Map of emergency planning zone.

Several types of dispersion models exist, and many computer programs exist to create the models. Selection depends on input complexity and output requirement. The result of the dispersion study determines an emergency planning zone (EPZ), carefully delimited to ensure the safety of the public near the site.

Based on the specific characteristics of the EPZ, an EPZ monitoring plan and an emergency response plan (ERP) are crafted.

The execution of the EPZ monitoring plan requires incredible coordination to be effective. Checkpoints and road block locations need to be set up. It is a good measure to assign road block personnel to brief all people approaching with the correct information and status of the area and keep a log on transient people entering the EPZ. As part of the EPZ monitoring plan, mobile air-monitoring units are deployed to track ambient conditions and establish plume tracking in the event of a gas release. Stationary gas-monitoring equipment must be deployed at strategic places such as community perimeters or road blocks to be able to generate continuous condition reports. The placement of the air monitoring stations should be based on prevailing wind conditions and aligned with dispersion modeling results.

Community perimeter monitoring with Quazar.

Community perimeter monitoring with Quazar.

Communication technology such as wireless, general packet radio service, or worldwide interoperability for microwave access communication can be applied to gas monitoring and public protection. Innovations such as the Quazar from United Safety use both radio and Web technologies to get the right information at the right time to the right people. Data such as gas readings, wind speed, wind direction, global positioning satellite coordinates, unit identification (location), and distances from project/work site or other designated points are transmitted through wireless technology to the base, which, in turn, processes and averages data in order to facilitate well-timed decisions.

In the event of a release, the ERP will be executed. It should be quick, effective, and appropriate to protect the public, in addition to employees and contractors. It is crafted on the basis of different levels of emergency and provides the preparedness and response to the release. It should contain details on emergency definition and action, responsibilities of company and local authorities, evacuation and sheltering places, ignition procedures, resident information, maps, and more. A warning and public alarm system that is both visible and audible also needs to be in place. This ensures early notification so a timely community evacuation can be performed.

Another important factor on ensuring community protection is public relations. Media attention and intense public pressure make the ability to communicate within the response team as well as with stakeholders critical. A communications process/plan must be implemented and tested during drills.

The community must receive air monitoring data and activities schedules regularly, establishing confidence in the functionality of the safety program. EPZ personnel can also be used to communicate with residents. Another best-practice is distribution of a resident information package with a brief summary of the proposed activities, evacuation and ignition procedures, emergency telephone numbers, and a description of the hazards of the toxic gases present.

“Public protection still has some catching up to do when compared with onsite technology and safety measures,” Daher said. “To minimize impacts of toxic gas releases, companies should take into consideration the integration of gas monitoring and alarm equipment, communication, analysis of data, and dispersion modeling, culminating in a solid ERP plan. This is key to sustain long-term protection of the public living near oil and gas operations.”

To learn more on community protection in oil and gas, sign up for United Safety’s premium content here.

Webinar Lays Out Issues of Transporting Crude by Rail

Published June 25, 2014

On 29 July, SPE will present an online seminar that will examine issues presented by transporting crude oil by rail.

In May, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association (AFPM) delivered the results of a survey of Bakken crude oil characteristics to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). The report summarized findings based on analysis of the more than 1,400 Bakken crude samples that 17 AFPM members submitted in response to a survey. The survey results show that Bakken crude oil is appropriately classified as a flammable liquid based on DOT and international transportation requirements.

The SPE online seminar will review the findings of the AFPM report. In addition, AFPM will discuss its support of a holistic approach to improving the safe transportation of crude oil by rail. According to the AFPM, the regulatory process underlying these goals must be data-driven, based upon sound science, subjected to a robust cost/benefit analysis, and developed in a transparent manner involving all stakeholders.

AFPM will also provide a brief update on the DOT Emergency Order of 7 May that requires railroads transporting more than 1 million gal of Bakken crude oil (approximately 35 tank cars) to notify state emergency response commissions about the expected movement of such trains through counties in that state.


The presentation will be delivered by David N. Friedman, vice president of regulatory affairs for AFPM. As AFPM’s regulatory affairs vice president, Friedman is responsible for formulating and implementing the refining and petrochemical industries’ environmental, fuels, safety and security missions, including the development of association’s policy on Congressional legislation and regulatory matters. Before being named environmental affairs director in 2006, he was in charge of directing advocacy activities for the association’s petrochemical membership, identifying, formulating and communicating industry policy positions to legislative and regulatory policymakers. AFPM’s members include more than 400 companies, including virtually all US refiners and petrochemical manufacturers.