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World Oilfield Forum

Different safety cultures for drilling vs. production?

On May 13, 2013, I had a long chat in the Galleria-area office of Charlie Williams, the executive director of the Center for Offshore Safety (whose earlier career had been with Shell). One of the topics that we discussed was whether or not the case could be made that there is a distinct safety culture that applies to offshore drilling, and another safety culture that applies to offshore production.

This distinction was raised at a session of OTC 2013 by Ian Sutton, a panelist, and it had caught my attention.

Charlie indicated that he doesn’t buy into this distinction: “The principles of safety apply equally to drilling as to production.”

Yet his further comments made me think that there is a case to be made for seeing offshore drilling as requiring a separate safety culture, or, at least, requiring a distinct approach by the operator and contractors. Consider:

1)      In drilling, all but a few of the people onboard the drill rig  or ship are contractors; whereas on a production platform the all but a few people are employees of the operator. (Charlie compared running a production platform to running a refinery: everything from one day to the next is pretty much the same.)

2)      In production, risk is a continuous function, one related mainly to maintenance; in drilling, in contrast, the distribution of risk is discontinuous, and is associated with specific events and activities that are unique to a given drill site.

3)      In planning for barriers and mitigation in drilling, the force of nature cannot be predicted with precision; whereas, the pressures on a production platform (as in a refinery) are there by design.

4)      In drilling, everyone on board the drilling platform or vessel should know be aware of the overall sequence of events that are taking place, with an appreciation of the risk involved with each event (drilling, casing, cementing, abandonment), and what is expected of each person in the event of an accident. On a production platform, everyone has a duty station in the event of an accident; but the dynamic is not driven by the risks associated with the phases of the operation.

I’d like to hear from others with experiences in both of these safety environments. Is there a valid case to be made for a distinctive safety culture in drilling operations, or is Charlie correct in saying, basically, that safety is safety, and that there is no point in slicing the subject up into “drilling safety” and “production safety”?

Views: 226

Comment by solberg on July 21, 2013 at 1:12pm

It sounds like you are arguing past each other. Both are correct. Your argument is around culture, he responded around principles. A Culture is a shared set of perceptions and beliefs. A principle is a fundamental, irrefutable truth that serves as the foundation of said beliefs. When enough people believe the same truth, you have a shared set of beliefs, which is the basic building block of culture. Looking at the Drilling Contractor and Operator, it is evident that each party inhabits its own world. If you're a drilling contractor with a fleet of rigs working for different operators, each one of those rigs is going to have a slightly different culture because they work for all these operators, each with their own set of pet rules, principles or "Dirty Dozen" safety rules. Now, imagine you're a maintenance person for this drilling contractor, and your job is to go around to all these different leases, performing maintenance on your company's fleet of rigs. You go to this lease, and Shell gives you their orientation, then you go over to Apache and they've got their version of reality. Eventually, it just becomes white noise to you. From the contractor side, it's virtually impossible to adopt the principles of every single owner/operator out there. Also, consider the inherent risk in drilling vs. production. Drilling is inherently risky, where I would rate production as having a lower inherent risk. Also, processes in production are more contained, engineered and even static. There are fewer unknowns to deal with. So your process operator has time to get his permit, review a Job Safety Analysis, perform his lockout, then go into the production area to flip that valve. In performing these safety activities, he has just racked up 2-3 hours of low-risk incident free hours pushing paper. So naturally, you'd expect to see a lower total recordable incident frequency in production than in drilling. If we could automate all drilling rigs and have rig hands pushing paper all day or sitting in control rooms watching dials, then we'd have a similar culture to production. So I don't see this as either/or. Principles are like seeds, culture is like a tree. Whether or not a set of principles takes root depends on the soil and environment (external factors). 

Comment by EVONNE KARRIE on September 30, 2013 at 3:19am

Nice information is shared, I like it... @solberg

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