Commentary, 9/10 2011

Published Oct 10, 2011
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Cover, 9/10 2011

Safety Visionary

It’s been not quite a year and a half since we hear the horrific news about the Transocean Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 22, 2010, followed by months of work to stop the flow from 1,500 metres below the ocean surface and clean-up of resulting environmental tragedy.
At the very least, one lesson learned is that the days of “easy oil” are behind us. Why else would we need to drill at such depths to so far beneath the Earth’s surface?
But beyond emphasising how increasingly difficult it’s becoming to meet the world’s energy supply demands, the disaster at the Macondo Prospect drove home the need for a strong culture of safety – a vision of how to work profitably that ensures safety and security for the environment and for those who are on the job.
So for a year and half, we’ve seen reports from the authorities that try not only to pinpoint the causes behind the disaster, but also to develop constructive recommendations to ensure that events similar to Macondo are less likely to occur in the future. We’ve also seen the industry pull together with the purpose of improving drilling safety.
In the early days following Macondo, the office of US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar published a list of 21 new offshore safety recommendations. Norway’s safety visionaries, the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) reported at the time that all but five of the recommendations were already in place on the Norwegian Centennial Shelf (NCS). The list clearly served to validate that we in the North Sea were and on the right track, that a culture of safety was in place.
The US Department of the Interior’s list should not be seen as simply a case of learning from mistakes. It must also help the industry to examine its experience in order to enhance safe operations now and in the future. To simply avoid past errors is a kind of complacency in itself.
As the industry moves forward, using more technologically advance equipment and processes while working in more difficult areas, the goal should be to proactively deal with potential problems that threaten health, safety and the environment (HSE). This kind of proactive thinking – both for technology and for safety – is key to ensuring a complete culture of continuous improvement.
As we go to press, the PSA has reported some of its preliminary findings from the ongoing study of the Deepwater Horizon incident. According to Hilde-Karin Østnes, who has headed the PSA’s extensive follow-up process, “Important conditions must be tackled and key processes launched. We’ll obviously apply the lessons from the disaster to make Norway’s petroleum sector ever safer and more robust. That’ll help prevent new major accidents. Continuous improvement is and must be a fundamental principle for this industry.”
A key conclusion of the PSA’s study is that, “This disaster affects all types of activity and all players in the national and international petroleum sector. And it must lead to improvements in the industry as a whole.”
The PSA points to the need for “robust solutions” to ensure safety by building in safety margins that help cope with issues arising from human error, technical faults, operational non-conformities, as well as unexpected and demanding conditions.
The PSA’s full Deepwater Horizon report is expected next spring. In the meantime, let a commitment to continuous improvement be our guiding principle.

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