Assessing safety prevents disaster

Routine checks and proper maintenance of assets can go a long way in ensuring the safety of workers and the facilities housing them.

Dr Liane Smith, MD of Wood Group Intetech.
Dr Liane Smith, MD of Wood Group Intetech.

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 relativey few onsite accidents, fire outbreaks and oil spills.

Major regional players – primarily the NOCs – have traditionally allocated sizable chunks of their budget to securing their daily operations and maintaining overall health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) standards. Spending big on health and safety equipment is a prominent part of that effort.

“Our experience in the GCC 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 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.”

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. With this advance warning, operators can take preventive action to reduce the likelihood of a major incident, she says.

Wood’s Electronic Corrosion Engineer (ECE), a tool for the quantitative estimation of corrosion rates and the selection of materials for oil and gas production systems and processing facilities, has been deployed by Wood Group’s clients in Oman and the UAE Smith says, adding: “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.”

Wood Group boasts of an impressive clientele, comprising regional NOCs and IOCs, with regional heavyweights including ADNOC subsidiaries, Qatar Petroleum and PDO, and global majors such as Shell, BP and ExxonMobil, all users of the ECE system.

The company’s iWIT Well Integrity Toolkit software can be used for well management and provides high-level visibility of a well’s integrity status. This is critical for preventing incidents, Smith continues.

“Both of these systems (ECE and iWIT) can identify the problems that present the greatest risk to the organisation, ensuring that budget is focussed 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, with subdued crude oil prices showing 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, decided to slash spending on HSE and operational security aspects. Smith cries nay!

She is of the opinion that no company can completely avoid critical expenditure on key 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 gives operators a real-time picture of all aspects of well operation. Users of this 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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