Archive for July, 2011

Much ado about nothing courtesy of the Associated Press:

Copies of the forms submitted by more than 100 inspectors, engineers and permit reviewers in five Gulf coast offices were obtained by the AP under the Freedom of Information Act. Personal information, such as the names of the employees, their friends and their family members, was blacked out to protect privacy. But the companies with ties to government workers were disclosed, and they represent a who’s who of the offshore oil and gas industry, from majors like Chevron, Shell and BP to smaller companies such as W&T Offshore Inc., Ankor Energy LLC and Hilcorp Energy Co.

So yesterday we linked an article about proposed legislation that would, among other things, require that offshore inspectors have “at least three years experience in the oil and natural gas field.” Today, we read contradictory (and silly) comments like the one below in the AP piece that criticize such experience. How would you like to be an oil and gas inspector or prospective offshore regulator?

“It’s nearly impossible to determine where the oil industry ends and the government’s regulatory agency begins,” said Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight, after reviewing AP’s data. “These new instances indicate that BOEMRE staff are connected to individuals and oil companies, which raises concerns about lax oversight and the integrity of the agency. Without enhanced enforcement authority and independent oversight of these potential conflicts, I’m uncertain that BOEMRE can assure the public that it is truly watchdogging the offshore oil industry.”

Give these people a break. I have seen absolutely no evidence that improper government-industry relationships or compromised inspections had anything to do with the Macondo blowout or any other recent incident. Inspection and engineering personnel are under continuous scrutiny well beyond what most employees would accept, and recuse themselves from assignments if there could be even a perception of a conflict of interest.

The US offshore program, and every other safety regulator, needs people who understand the operations and technology that they regulate. These regulators need to communicate regularly with industry personnel on operational and regulatory issues. Too little interaction with their professional peers is a greater danger than too much. You don’t advance safety technology and procedures, and resolve concerns, without communication.

DOI offshore personnel have had and will continue to have more than enough oversight; time to move on to another cause.

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We now have yet another legislative proposal, this time from the House, that fails to address the fundamental offshore safety and regulatory policy issues.

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Very interesting findings for those interested in the fate of spilled oil:

The deep sea entrainment of water-soluble hydrocarbons has far-reaching implications for deep water oil spills. Our results demonstrate that most of the C1-C3 hydrocarbons and a significant fraction of water-soluble aromatic compounds were retained in the deep water column, whereas relatively insoluble petroleum components were predominantly transported to the sea surface or deposited on the seafloor, although the relative proportions are not known.

The resulting apportionments of hydrocarbon transfers to the water column and atmosphere are therefore very different for a deep water oil spill versus a sea-surface oil spill. During seasurface oil spills, highly water-soluble components such as BTEX, C3-benzenes, and naphthalene quickly volatilize and are rapidly lost to the atmosphere within hours to days, thereby limiting the extent of aqueous dissolution into the water column. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, however, gas and oil experienced a significant residence time in the water column with no opportunity for the release of volatile species to the atmosphere. Hence, water-soluble petroleum compounds dissolved into the water column to a much greater extent than is typically observed for surface spills.

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from Platts Oilgram News:

Representatives Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rush Holt of New Jersey introduced the so-called No Free Inspections for Oil Companies Act (H.R. 2566) July 15, in reaction to House Republicans’ proposal for funding the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. About $35 million short of the Obama administration’s request, the GOP’s $154 million budget rejected new and more expensive fees on offshore operators. The administration wanted to ratchet up industry fees to $65 million a year, from $10 million, to pay for a tougher inspections regime.

The annual inspection fees debate, a budget season ritual for 20+ years, has picked up intensity and financial significance in the post-Macondo spotlight. However, discussions about regulatory philosophy and the fundamental program decisions that dictate inspection strategy are still absent. Safety and pollution prevention are the goals, not inspections. While inspections are an essential part of any safety regime, they are just one component of a comprehensive regulatory program. More inspections would not have prevented Macondo. Better standards, training, technology, and attention to prior incidents (most notably Montara) may have.

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In light of the 2009 helicopter crash that killed 17 workers offshore Newfoundland and the rash of other helicopter incidents around the world, helicopter safety is a major concern for the offshore industry and regulators. This FAA decision (link courtesy of Cheryl Anderson) is sure to be controversial in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere.

The U.S. aviation regulator says it won’t require the retrofit of a gearbox blamed in a fatal helicopter crash off Newfoundland because it would be too expensive for the industry.

 The decision by the Federal Aviation Administration rejects a call by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to phase-in a requirement that all Sikorsky S-92A gearboxes be capable of operating at least 30 minutes after losing oil.

The March 2009 crash of Cougar Flight 491 resulted in 17 deaths during a flight to an offshore oil platform, and has brought demands from the families of the victims that regulators in the United States, Canada and Europe change the rules governing the gearbox.

The FAA memo on the decision, obtained by The Canadian Press under U.S. freedom of information legislation, says the service record of the helicopter no longer supports the certification’s basic premise that the chances of an oil leak are “extremely remote.”

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Encouraging report from Steve Walker and his HSE colleagues.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that there were 73 major or significant hydrocarbon releases associated with offshore installations in 2010/11, compared with 85 the previous year. There were 61 recorded in 2008/09 – the lowest since HSE began regulating the industry. Overall, there continues to be a downward trend in the total of all reported hydrocarbon releases offshore.

For the fourth year running, no workers were killed during offshore activities regulated by HSE and 2010/11 also saw a fall in the number of major injuries. There were 42 reported compared with 50 the previous year, bringing the total in line with the average of the previous five years.

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The 2011 Operational Review will examine NOPSA’s activities and legislated functions including engagement with stakeholders, particularly in relation to Safety Case development and the implementation and promotion of improved workplace safety practices and culture.

NOPSA CEO, Jane Cutler, said she welcomes the commencement of the 2011 Operational Review and will be keen to cooperate with the Review team and read the recommendations of the final report, scheduled to be handed to the Minister by Wednesday November 30.

Regular external reviews are valuable if for no other reason than to promote informed discussion, and to provide an opportunity for the public and regulated industry to provide input to an independent panel.

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Our friend Tore Fjågesund from WellBarrier sent us this clever poster.

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You be the judge.

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14.07.2011 | On Wednesday 13 July, a fire broke out in the compressor area of Valhall PCP. Today the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) will send two representatives to Valhall to investigate the incident.

The fire, which was reported to the authorities yesterday afternoon, started at around 4.40 p.m. A standby vessel was deployed to put out the fire and at 6.45 p.m. it was confirmed that the fire had been extinguished. All personnel were evacuated and there were no injuries.


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