Out of sight, not out of mind

Sept. 10, 2012
Hot topics come and go rapidly in the energy industry. Development of shale gas and the safety of overland pipelines hold sway currently, with a variety of technological, political, safety, and market-related forces guiding this focus.

Hot topics come and go rapidly in the energy industry. Development of shale gas and the safety of overland pipelines hold sway currently, with a variety of technological, political, safety, and market-related forces guiding this focus. In the recent past, however, the main topics of interest were safety of offshore operations and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), guided by different aspects of the same forces.

Once a topic fades from the front pages it sometimes disappears altogether. But more often, the initial flurry of interest was simply the catalyst for years of hard work outside the spotlight on the part of engineers, regulators, and operators; those with the skills and knowledge to address a given situation hands-on rather than simply talk about it.

This certainly has been the case with offshore operations in the US Gulf of Mexico. Operators already have developed and deployed new subsea containment systems and continue to investigate improvements in well design and blowout prevention technology. The recently constituted US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), under the US Department of Interior, has similarly focused on improving safety measures and developing containment procedures. Operators must demonstrate preparedness in dealing with potential blowouts. Drilling applications must meet new standards for well-design, casing, and cementing, and be independently certified.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, determined in its July 2012 report, "Interior's Reorganization Complete, but Challenges Remain in Implementing New Requirements," that BOEMRE must continue to step up its efforts. Interior's inspections of offshore Gulf of Mexico oil and gas drilling rigs and production platforms during Jan. 1, 2000, through Sept. 30, 2011, routinely identified violations, the report said, but its database is missing data regarding when violations were identified and correction dates issued for about half of the violations. This lack of data leaves open the possibility that unsafe conditions continued for extended periods. Interior has begun implementing changes to improve its inspection program, but has not assessed how these changes will affect its ability to conduct monthly drilling rig inspections, according to GAO.

GAO also found that Interior's capacity to identify and evaluate risk remains limited, raising questions about the effectiveness with which it allocates oversight resources. The report went on to say that Interior continues to experience difficulties in implementing effective information technology systems and faces workforce planning challenges, including hiring, retaining, and training staff.


Standards organizations also have been hard at work. Det Norske Veritas has issued a new revision of DNV Offshore Standard for Submarine Pipeline Systems (DNV-OS-F101). DNV received nearly 1,000 comments during the revision's consultation process and made numerous revisions. Pressures are now defined in the standard's concept development and design premises section and substantive changes were made in the construction section related to marine operations and equipment qualification. DNV also made changes related to advances in nondestructive and automated ultrasonic testing over the past 5 years.

DNV also has been at work on CCS, having issued Recommended Practice (RP) J203 for selection, qualification, and management of geological storage sites and Service Specification (DSS) 402 defining statement to be issued under the RP in during project development:

• Statement of feasibility.

• Statement of endorsement.

• Certificate of fitness of storage.

• Certificate of fitness for closure.

Catalyst vs. progress

Political or popular scrutiny can be a catalyst for technological change and development. But the actual pursuit of this change occurs best outside of the limelight, where researchers can guide their activities according to scientific principles rather than social pressure.

This sort of diligent work not only serves to improve the quality and safety of oil and gas operations, but also helps ensure topics remain outside the political and media realms for as long as possible. This removal is itself a tangible good, allowing technological advances to occur without political or popular interference.

About the Author

Christopher E. Smith | Editor in Chief

Christopher brings 27 years of experience in a variety of oil and gas industry analysis and reporting roles to his work as Editor-in-Chief, specializing for the last 15 of them in midstream and transportation sectors.