Archive for October, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I’ll be dressing up in my “command and control” regulator costume ūüôā

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This slide presented by Dr. Mark Fleming during his excellent presentation in Vancouver piqued my interest, so I looked for a bit more information.  I found this interesting observation in a paper by Gonzales and Sawicka:

The role of risk perception is particularly interesting. First, performance in both safety and security settings is well characterized by the ‚Äúunrocked boat‚ÄĚ metaphor: Organizations become accustomed to their apparently safe state, thus misperceiving risk and allowing themselves to drift into regions of greater vulnerability, until (near) accidents temporarily induce greater risk awareness. The resulting pattern is oscillatory, with varying amplitude and typically leading to disaster.

The above quote seems to describe the situation on the Deepwater Horizon. Perhaps there was a sense of invulnerability among some employees (including managers) and finishing the job took precedence over safety.  As Mark Fleming remarked in his presentation, offshore workers know their employer is in business to produce barrels of oil, not barrels of safety.  Concerns about production (or in this case timely suspension of the well) can easily supersede concerns about safety.

A very important paper by James Reason, the person responsible for the “Unrocked Boat” diagram, had this to say:

The same cultural drivers-time pressure, cost-cutting, indifference to hazards and the blinkered pursuit of commercial advantage-act to propel different people down the same error-provoking pathways to suffer the same kinds of accidents. Each organization gets the repeated accidents it deserves. Unless these drivers are changed and the local traps removed, the same accidents will continue to happen.

Reason goes on to recommend a data collection program that is currently absent, at least on an industry-wide basis:

In the absence of sufficient accidents to steer by, the only way to sustain a level of intelligent and respectful wariness is by creating a safety information system that collects, analyzes, and disseminates the knowledge gained from accidents, near misses, and other sources of ‘free lessons.’

I would suggest that another way to sustain wariness is to present information on past accidents and why they can happen again. How many industry employees know what happened at Santa Barbara, Bay Marchand, Main Pass 41, Ixtoc, the Alexander Kielland, Ocean Ranger, Brent B, South Pass 60 B, and even Piper Alpha?

Finally, Reason reaches this critically important and completely relevant conclusion (keep in mind that this paper is 12-years old):

It need not be necessary to suffer a corporate near-death experience before acknowledging the threat of operational dangers-though that does appear to have been the norm in the past. If we understand what comprises an informed culture, we can socially engineer its development. Achieving a safe culture does not have to be akin to a religious conversion-as it is sometimes represented. There is nothing mystical about it. It can be acquired through the day-to-day application of practical down-to-earth measures. Nor is safety culture a single entity. It is made up of a number of interacting elements, or ways of doing, thinking and managing, that have enhanced resistance to operational dangers as their natural by-product.

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National Commission letter

Chevron Cement Report

Chevron’s report states, among other things, that its lab personnel were unable to generate stable foam cement in the laboratory using the materials provided by Halliburton and available design information regarding the slurry used at the Macondo well. Although laboratory foam stability tests cannot replicate field conditions perfectly, these data strongly suggest that the foam cement used at Macondo was unstable. This may have contributed to the blowout.


The documents provided to us by Halliburton show, among other things, that its personnel conducted at least four foam stability tests relevant to the Macondo cement slurry. The first two tests were conducted in February 2010 using different well design parameters and a slightly different slurry recipe than was finally used. Both tests indicated that this foam slurry design was unstable.

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Click here to view the presentations from the International Regulators’ Offshore Safety Conference in Vancouver.

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As promised, API is now providing free access to referenced safety standards.  Ironically, the system was initiated while I was looking for online access to RP 53.  I tried the new system and it seems to work fine. Registration is required, but the process is quite easy.

Kudos to API for taking this important step.

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With all the discussion about risk management, what should government and industry be doing to identify and address potential weaknesses in drilling and production systems? ¬†A good place to start would be to review the reports that have been prepared by the Petroleum Safety Authority – Norway (PSA) for the past ten years. These reports use a variety of indicators to assess safety risks on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Torleif Husebo presented a summary of PSA’s risk program at the Vancouver conference.¬†The full text of their latest report can be viewed here.

As was noted in Vancouver, we need to continue to develop and assess new indicators for possible use in risk management programs.

According to PSA:

No single indicator can pick up all relevant aspects of risk. Developments are accordingly measured by utilising a number of relevant indicators and methods, such as the collection and analysis of incident indicators and barrier data, interviews with key informants and a major questionnaire survey every other year.

Risk management is complex and there is no cookbook.  Technological, human, organizational, and procedural factors must all be considered, and everyone needs to be engaged.

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Upstream was in attendance at today’s Arctic Oil & Gas Conference in Oslo and posted an interesting report. At the conference,¬†Cairn Energy’s Engineering and Operations Director Phil Tracy wisely avoided the “can’t happen here, can’t happen again, can’t happen to me” traps. ¬†Instead, he correctly noted that:

An uninformed public are looking for guarantees we cannot give.

Kudos to Mr. Tracy.  We are not politicians, and must be open and honest with the public.  Yes, a disaster can happen again, but we will do everything possible to prevent it.  While the professional opposition and their political leadership will never be satisfied, the public at large appreciates candid and honest responses.

I was personally required to give a point by point by point submission (covering HSE) to the Greenlandic authorities. Phil Tracy

I have to give high marks to Greenland.  They resisted the cry to prohibit drilling, but challenged the operator and insisted on a top-notch operation.  Well done!


Cairn operation offshore Greenland. Greenpeace provides moral support.


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Peoples attitudes and opinions have been formed over decades of life and cannot be changed by having a few meetings or giving a few lectures. Mao Tse Tung (from Mark Fleming’s presentation linked below)

Sometimes presentations don’t fulfill the lofty expectations of the audience, particularly when the titles are catchy. ¬†That definitely was not the case with Dr. Mark Fleming’s outstanding presentation at the Vancouver conference. ¬†Mark’s presentation entitled¬†Know where you are going rather than where you have been! A Leaders’ guide to continuous safety performance measurement effectively drove home the safety culture message. ¬†I strongly suggest that you take a close look at the presentation (not yet posted, but I’ll provide a link as soon as it is).

In the meantime, you can look at this excellent paper that Mark prepared for Petroleum Research Atlantic Canada and a presentation he made at the Centre for Occupational Health/Safety. Good, thought provoking stuff for you safety gurus!


from Dr. Fleming's presentation linked above


You have to love “New ideas present problems” from the Bureaucratic column. ¬†So true. ¬†It’s not that new ideas are not welcome, it’s that bureaucracies (public and private) are incapable of dealing with them and are built with insurmountable barriers that prevent their consideration.

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Viewed in Vancouver

Jan de Jong (Inspector General, State Supervision of Mines, the Netherlands), Max Ruelokke (CEO, Canada - Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board), and Odd Finnestad (BOE Executive VP for International Programs and IRF Historian)

They re-lit the Olympic Torch in our honor. Well, not exactly. The torch was lit for a ceremony naming the plaza after Jack Poole, a driving force in bringing the Olympics to Vancouver. Sadly, Jack died of cancer a few months before the games opened.

While we are awaiting the official pictures of the Vancouver conference, you can look at some of Karen’s by clicking here.

Vancouver is a great city and the weather was pretty close to perfect.  I like walkable cities with interesting neighborhoods, and Vancouver ranks near the tops.  If you get a chance, check it out.

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1. BP CEO Bob Dudley pokes media, politicians and oil industry:

A great rush to judgment by a fair number of observers before the full facts could possibly be known, even from some in our industry.

Comment: Bob Dudley is correct, but the attacks and distortions were entirely predictable. ¬†Human responses to high-profile disasters will always be excessive, and you won’t have a lot of friends when you are a public target. Add this negative outcome to the list of more important reasons for avoiding offshore disasters –¬†protecting workers, preventing pollution, and preserving assets.

2. PTT and Indonesia continue to battle over Montara damages.

Comment: This will be a long and interesting international battle. ¬†I wonder if PTT has any assets in Indonesia? ¬†I can’t really tell from their website.

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