Analysis: Eyes on Safety

Audrey Leon

June 19, 2014

BSEE Director Brian Salerno discusses the importance of SEMS at OTC 2014. Photo by Barchfeld Photography.

The 45th annual Offshore Technology Conference in Houston brought together US regulators and major operators to discuss advancements in offshore safety since Macondo. Audrey Leon reports.

According to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) incident statistics database, updated January 2014, nine well control incidents occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, 97 fires and/or explosions, 226 injuries, and three fatalities were recorded in 2013. In all 691 incidents occurred on the US outer continental shelf (OCS), down from 730 the previous year.

Since Macondo, US regulators and the industry have made safety a major discussion topic. At last year’s OTC, BSEE set out to engage the industry and encourage discussion of its then- recent Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) II rule, which aimed to provide greater employee participation in safety decisions out in the field, as well as set oversight guidelines for requiring audits to be conducted by third-parties (OE June 2013).

This year new BSEE Director Brian Salerno discussed the importance of SEMS in his multiple appearances, including at Active Arena: Oil Spill Prevention as well as the lunch event Improving Safety Management and Recognizing Contributions.

“Most accidents we see come from the human element, not just technology failures,” he said at Active Arena. “Safety has to permeate through the workforce, and workers need to understand the processes and be good stewards of the company. They should be rewarded by the company for looking out.”

Uno Holm Rognli, Vice President of Drilling and Wells, US Offshore, for Norway’s Statoil, echoed that sentiment.

“A good (safety culture) takes time to build,” he said. “Start with rules and regulations that people understand and want to follow. Risks should be understood and eliminated.

“It should be perfectly OK to say ‘I don’t understand this,’” Rognli said.

He continued, saying it is important to have stop criteria that prevents mistakes. “Management should make sure we follow these criteria.”

On US regulations, Rognli added that coming from Norway, Statoil is familiar with having detailed regulations. “The company has had no problem adapting to US standards,” he said, but he believes it would be harder to go the other way.

“We have to ask for permission every time we make a small change.”

Center for Offshore Safety’s Charlie Williams, BSEE Director Brian Salerno, and USCG’s Joseph Servidio spoke about safety management at OTC 2014. Photo by Barchfeld Photography.

At Improving Safety Management and Recognizing Contributions, Salerno told the audience that a lot more can be done with SEMS. “None of us should be satisfied that the goal of a widespread safety culture within the industry has been achieved,” he said. “Some companies still think they can cut corners or regard SEMS as just a plan on a shelf. As we have seen, in some tragic cases, lives have been lost–needlessly–for failure to follow established safety processes.”

He continued: “I’m grateful to those who have taken SEMS and the need for a comprehensive safety culture to is a shared goal.” Salerno discussed a near-miss reporting system that BSEE

plans to develop, which would be similar to that of the aviation industry. “This does not replace required reporting or substitute BSEE investigations,” he said. The new program will be headed by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics to guarantee anonymity; Salerno said this will allow the agency to broaden its understanding of risk, including indicators, and how to mitigate them.

With the opening up of Mexico’s oil and gas industry on everyone’s minds, the need for close ties to the country arose as a discussion topic during Q&A. Of this, Salerno said: “We have a very dynamic relationship with Mexico. We interact with our counterparts Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (CNH) a lot. With new developments, such as the transboundary agreement, we need to be closer.”

US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joseph A. Servidio, who also spoke at the lunch session, agreed with Salerno, stating “One Gulf, one standard, is the way forward.”

Macondo in focus

Salerno mentioned during Active Arena’s Q&A session that one main problem with the US government’s response to Macondo were the “silos” that existed between government agencies.

“Going back to my coast guard days, prior to Macondo, our mindset was ship-based or shore-based. In the Gulf, there was acknowledgement, but it never mapped into interagency planning.

“That gap has been now closed. BSEE has a strong rela- tionship with the US Coast Guard (USCG), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others, as well as states, and local communities,” Salerno said. “Prior to Macondo, response was a surface construct. Intervention was not readily available. Center for Offshore Safety, the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) weren’t around.”

Jim Raney, Director of Engineering and Technology at Anadarko Petroleum, and past chair of the API Committee on Standardization of Oilfield Equipment and Materials (CSOEM), discussed the joint industry task force that was organized following Macondo. The task force, he said, focused on three items: prevention, intervention, and response. The group looked at equipment including ROVs and subsea control and containment tools.

“We were using the same equipment that we used for the Exxon Valdez spill,” Raney told the Active Arena audience. “However, with the creation of MWCC and Helix Well Containment Group, the two are ready to cap and flow with the industry.”

Raney said there has been significant progress made to improve spill prevention. And several API standards have been introduced thanks to industry involvement, including API RP 96, led by Chevron, which focuses on deepwater well design and construction, as well as API RP 17W, recommended practice for subsea capping stacks, and API RP 17H, focused on remotely operated tools and interfaces on subsea production systems. API RP 98, focuses on personal protective equipment for oil spill cleanup workers.

Jim Raney, Anadarko, speaks at an OTC session about industry response to Macondo. Photo by Audrey Leon/OE. 


Responding to what it saw as a need for its own operations, Chevron’s Vice President of Drilling and Completions David Payne showcased the supermajor’s new WELLSAFE program, which focuses on process safety for well control.

The WELLSAFE program is based on the US Navy program SUBSAFE, which came into practice following the sinking of the nuclear submarine USS Thresher, which killed 129 crew members in 1963. The SUBSAFE program narrowed focus to the integrity of a submarine’s hull, and covered how to react to flooding events.

WELLSAFE mirrors the SUBSAFE model, and is an assurance-based program that includes clear written requirements, shifts the focus from training to education, and offers a con- tinuous certification process. WELLSAFE begins with business unit certification. Payne said it needs a governing authority centralized in global drilling and completions. Additionally, the individual well design needs certification.

“WELLSAFE assures that well design complies. It’s like doing an audit every day,” Payne said. Each rig is certified by the business unit’s wellsite. “We will stop any operation that is not safe and does not meet expectations.”

Payne said Chevron knew it needed to put WELLSAFE into action following a January 2012 blowout at the Funiwa Deep 1A natural gas well off Nigeria, which killed two workers and began a fire that burned for 46 days, eventually consuming the KS Endeavour jackup rig owned by Hercules Offshore.

Chevron is rolling out WELLSAFE in stages, Payne said. The supermajor expects to fully implement WELLSAFE for rig operations only in 2015, with the Gulf of Mexico business unit being the first to attain certification.


Rognli discussed the Norwegian giant’s perspective on spill prevention, saying that prevention starts with well integrity, and by constructing a well that can deal with any pressure. Statoil plans to implement new safety measures including early kick detection, a smart flowback system capable of detecting abnormal flow, and an ECD management system for bottom hole pressure control.