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GCC invests in safe and secure future

As the region's oil and gas industry strives to improve upon its HSSE standards, companies across the spectrum are increasing spend on various aspects of security equipment, making it a potentially lucrative market for manufacturers and suppliers

Offshore, ANALYSIS, Industry Trends, Onshore

The Middle East has, over the years, been known to all and sundry as not just the biggest oil hub in the world, but also for having an established oil and gas industry that can boast of safe and secure operations. Considering that the GCC owns some of the busiest oilfields and offshore drilling rigs, and pumps about 19mn barrels of oil per day, it reports negligible incidents of onsite accidents, fire outbreaks and oil spills.

Major regional players – primarily the National Oil Companies (NOCs) – have traditionally allocated sizable chunks of their budget in securing their daily operations and maintaining overall health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) standards. Spending big on security equipment being among that.

“Our experience in the GCC region shows that oil and gas companies are very safety conscious,” Dr. Liane Smith, managing director of British asset integrity company Wood Group Intetech, says. “We recently visited an operator’s office in the region that had safety statistics and signs on every floor of the building. This awareness is prevalent across the GCC, where many organisations have a significant focus on safety across the business.”

Industry experts also feel that securing oil and gas operations is a dynamic process and regional companies must continue to strive towards attaining excellence in HSSE standards. “Safety is a prime concern in the industry, but as in all things there is always room for improvement or better ways of doing things,” Scott Starr, marketing director of US-based Firetrace International, told Oil & Gas Middle East.

Speaking of safety and security in the oil and gas sector, the first aspect that comes to mind is fire protection systems (FPS). Fossil fuels being highly flammable commodities, the risk of fire outbreaks are high and the global energy sector has suffered numerous such deadly accidents that have amounted to both loss of life and operations. “There are a multitude of flammable fuels and materials and ready ignition sources at every oil and gas operation. A fire of any size is always a serious situation in such a setting. Detection and suppression of a fire in its earliest, or incipient, stage stops small fires from growing large enough that they can threaten lives and property,” Starr says.

He claims Firetrace International has sought to address this particular challenge of fire security. “Firetrace systems detect and suppress fires automatically and can be installed in remote or hard to reach areas, providing an extra margin of safety for O&G workers by extending the capabilities of fire suppression into the microenvironment areas where it starts rather than taking a macro approach to detection and suppression,” he says.

Starr explains the workings of his company-manufactured FPS equipment’s working: “Firetrace pre-engineered systems suppress small fires automatically before they can grow, and Firetrace engineered total flooding systems can protect entire rooms or other large spaces containing high asset or mission-critical equipment necessary to maintain the safety and security of oil and gas operations. Firetrace utilises a pressurised polymer tube for detection that is ideal for the oil and gas market as it is quite resilient and very tolerant of dirt, grime, oils, and vibration; a benefit that any other detection method struggles to match.”

Tech Navio, a London-based research firm predicts the global FPS market in the oil and gas industry to grow steadily at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of close to 4% during the 2016-20. One of the primary drivers for the growth of this market is the stringent regulatory framework set up by the government, the report says. These regulatory frameworks and standards state that every direct oil and gas operators should allocate a certain share of their overall investments in fire safety. As per these standards, the establishment of a health and safety department in every oil and gas facility is mandatory to analyse and prevent fires during onshore and offshore activities, Tech Navio says in its report.

Dubai-based FPS products and services provider NAFFCO, which has recently formed a specialised oil and gas division, has been actively marketing its exclusive series of inergen gas (a type of inert gas) cylinders that offers specific advantages to oil and gas facilities. Rajendran Ekambaram, senior operations manager – Fire Engineering, at NAFFCO, explained the merits of the equipment to Oil & Gas Middle East, during the Intersec industrial security exhibition in Dubai in January.

“Now how do you design an inergen gas cylinder for an application in an oil and gas project? The standard thumb rule goes in accordance to the volume and weight (in kilogrammes) of gas required. But we don’t do that; we insist on central banking. When you have a central banking system, you distribute the gas through pipelines to various rooms that need to be protected. This becomes cost-effective, yet the standards are maintained. This system can surely be installed at oil rigs (and other similar platforms),” Ekambaram, who is heading Dubai-based NAFFCO’s year-old Oil, Gas & Power division, elaborated.

Safety and security in the oil and gas industry’s operations is not just about installing adequate FPS equipment; it certainly transcends that to include other aspects of security, experts maintain. “Every aspect of safety and security is important in maintaining a low-risk work environment for oil and gas personnel, but fire remains a primary concern due to the devastating consequences that it can have on equipment and personnel,” Starr says.

According to Smith, Wood Group Intetech’s products warn operators about the true condition of their assets, enabling them avoid potential risks such as corrosion damage or hydrocarbon leakage. By providing companies with advanced warning about the potential hazardous status of their assets, they can take preventative action to reduce the likelihood of a major incident, she says.

She talks about Wood’s Electronic Corrosion Engineer (ECE) as a tool for the quantitative estimation of corrosion rates and the selection of materials for oil and gas production systems and processing facilities. “In the current environment, with reduced resources, operators need to plan optimised risk-based inspection schedules and this can only be achieved if the potential form of corrosion is known,” she says. ECE has been deployed across Oman and the UAE, she reveals.

Smith also makes a mention of her company’s iWIT Well Integrity Toolkit software that can be used for well management, and provides high-level visibility of a well’s integrity status; an indicator that is perceived to be critical for preventing incidents. “Both of these systems (ECE and iWIT) can identify the problems that present the greatest risk to the organisation, ensuring that budget is focused on the wells or assets that need attention, and therefore mitigating the risk of a potential major incident,” she claims.

Times are tough for the Middle East’s oil and gas industry as crude oil prices – currently wobbling between $30-$35 a barrel – show no imminent signs of recovery. In such a scenario, when the region’s major oil producers are striving to ‘do more with less’, it would hardly come as a surprise if the NOCs or even the IOCs operating in the region decide to slash spending on FPS and other operational security aspects. Industry playsay this is absolutely not the case.

“We at NAFFCO believe in cost-reduction. However cost-reduction does not necessarily mean diluting our client’s budgets. It means value engineering and we are strong in engineering. So we want to utilise our engineering expertise for our clients to offer economical and safe services, without diluting the standards,” Ekambaram says of NAFFCO’s business strategy in developing security equipment.

“With the price of crude’s tumble from just a year ago, margins are becoming very tightly squeezed for even the most efficient producers. As margins drop, even small interruptions cause significant impacts upon the bottom line. While the easiest reaction would, of course, be to reduce spending on safety systems, with the current economic situation those investments have never been more critical,” Starr believes.

Smith is of the opinion that no company can completely avoid critical expenditure on aspects such as HSE. Some level of expenditure will always be necessary, and if invested correctly it will prove to be cost-effective and bear fruit in the medium to long-term.

She cites an example of an operational security product to prove her point: “Well integrity management software, for example, gives operators a real-time picture of all aspects of well operation. Users of this type of software can identify immediately when a well goes out of its safe operating envelope and alert the relevant personnel, so that potential problems do not become dangerous incidents. Taking this type of mitigating action will avoid unforeseen costs for operators at the same time as providing a substantial barrier to improve operational safety.”

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