Drilling Ahead

World Oilfield Forum

The Political Science of Industrial Safety: Have the Deeper Lessons of DW Horizon Been Learned?

If criminal negligence includes the notion of "failure to act," then the failures to act by managers onboard the Deepwater Horizon who were BP's contractors (Transocean, Halliburton and others) should also be subject to criminal prosecution. "I didn't make the final decision" should not be a defense, as everyone who did not object (and loudly) to proceeding in the face of two failed well integrity tests is complicit.

My article (linked below) discusses the safety audit on the Deepwater Horizon that took place the morning of the accident.  One of the conclusions is that going forward there need to be changes in law and insurance rules. One idea would be to create an insurance pool to pay for down time for safety reasons when the rig site leader invokes "stop work authority" and disobeys the instructions of the well owner to proceed.

In this way, contractors would be less hesitant to invoke their authority to stop-work-for-safety, knowing that they have insurance to cover all or part of the collateral expenses.

The well owner should not be the only person responsible for making the final safety calls. As the Macondo incident redundantly shows, the psychological tension between conflicting objectives of speed, safety and cost avoidance can occasionally overwhelm the common sense of the most experienced of company men on a rig.

For his own good, the napoleonic Donald J. Vidrine needed someone to have stood in his face and have said something like this:  "Hey, we're not going there.  Operations are shut down as of this moment, and they will remain shut down until clear, no-nonsense results establish cement integrity. For my part, I'm calling my onshore people and demand that they get onto the safety of this well and this rig.  You should do the same."


Views: 597

Comment by Russell Dwayne Olivier on November 21, 2012 at 5:20pm

Your right, there are three people involved. Who intermediated who? Who followed who?




Comment by William 'Buddy' Weaver on February 18, 2013 at 10:07am

It's always been the standing rule, on rigs I have supervised, that ANYONE could shut down an operation if they felt it was not safe. I've never had it happen, but it's still been the rule !!!

Comment by George Baker on February 18, 2013 at 11:36am

Let's assume, then, that the "rule" was a mere ornament of the HSE Department. Still, you have to wonder about what was going on in the mud shack on Deepwater Horizon when tests failed to show cement integrity in the well. Why didn't someone call "Time out for safety"?  Please take a guess at the mental state that would put lives, property and the environment at risk for the sake of defending a corporate slogan.

Comment by William 'Buddy' Weaver on February 18, 2013 at 11:50am

BP pushing to get the $500,000 +/- per day rig released ASAP !!!

Comment by DP Consultant on March 26, 2013 at 1:34am

Baker is 100% right, the real question is why didn't anyone act?  If you do a spreadsheet of the well and expansion rates, by mudflow alone it was beyond obvious that a blowout was in progress for about the last hour. These days most key people on deepwater rig are reactive, afraid to take the lead, not because of lack of authority, because of lack of knowledge (training).  This is a particular problem with marine crews.  They are trained extensively in materials handling, fighting fires, tying knots, and how to prevent collisions (rules of the road) but have no training to understand the Dynamic Positioning equipment they are in charge of, no training to understand how a well is drilled, and mostly no interest in either system.  Their main focus is upgrading their license, get to be Captain and make big bucks, and the main focus of the Captain (unfortunately) is trying to handle an overwhelming torrent of paperwork and questions about stuff he often understands less than his team.  The industry should make sure either the marine crews are be trained in drilling and computer systems or they are not in charge.  Hiring drill crews by how close they live to New Orleans or who they are related to is equally stupid.  We have drill crews with high rates of illiteracy, inadequate experience (and no way to get it) and way under-trained to comprehend the computer systems they have to operate and downhole drilling.  

If we want to prevent disasters, we need to make sure key personnel understand IN DEPTH the systems they are in charge of.  As Willy points out, the right to act is definitely there and supported by all management.  The knowledge that you NEED to act is the real problem, not authority or equipment.  Never forget that the number of deep water rigs had quadrupled in the 24 months prior to Macondo.  Every rig in the GoM was operating with a high percentage of extremely green hands, including supervisors.  That isn't the fault of government or industry, it's all those Chinese and Indians buying cars.  Not sure how we fix it, government can regulate training, but not experience, and frankly is too stupid to regulate in a way that could help, they stupidly specify method instead of results.  Industry cannot man the new rigs unless they drastically change attitude about the level of skill new hands have to demonstrate, with this ongoing fixation on firing everyone to reduce payroll it isn't getting better.  The free market can't help, other than $20 gasoline.  It's not an easy fix. 

Comment by solberg on April 20, 2013 at 11:12am

Short version: Auditors could have stopped the guys in the Mud Shack but didn't because they did not want to be perceived as a**holes, therefore we should drop Stop Work Authority because it's a fanciful notion? I think you're throwing the baby out with the bath water here. However, you're bang on about the bifurcation of safety into "Personal" and "Process". The BP Macondo rig was a great place to work from a personal safety angle, but the maintenance, operations, the "process" safety was lacking. Question 1: Why didn't the auditors feel comfortable in challenging the guys in the mud shack? Answer: Because "safety" to them focused on occupational, not process safety. Part of the problem is safety people who don't have an in-depth knowledge of operations, and operations people who have little qualification in safety, knowledge of the regulations or basic legal concepts like liability. The Safety person, who is more qualified in Safety, ends up answering to the manager on the rig, who isn't qualified in this area, and because of this, safety answers to prodution. If the head operations person doesn't like the Safety guy who gets in his face, he has him switched out for a more "compliant" (complicit) person.  Also, how many HSE executives occupy the boardrooms of organizations? Is there a President of Health & Safety who has a table at the Board of Directors? Or does Safety stay confined to the field, on a short leash and answerable to the on-site manager?  These days, I hear that in BP, if you want to have a manager title, you must prove safety competency by taking the NEBOSH General Cert. So in other words, you have to dig a little deeper into the organizational structure before reaching a verdict on whether Stop Work Authority has any intrinsic value. It looks good on paper, and people should, but fail to use it because of organizational dynamics and because operations people do not generally view HSE personnel as equal partners. 

Comment by DP Consultant on April 20, 2013 at 4:52pm

Very good points, but there is also a problem today with the safety guys.  Very often the rig guys are hired in 3rd party.  Experience is critically short everywhere, so some of these guys are much stronger on personnel safety than process safety, many don't know drilling in any depth (pun intended).    Remember the 24 months before Macondo the number of deepwater rigs in the GOM quadrupled, watering down the average knowledge and experience, and perhaps skill.

As for the concept of HSE Executives, I have personal experience at Transocean.   The corporate HSE guy was at the same time not very effective and about as good as anyone could be in his position.  A highly experienced and highly respected manager stated "Nobody who spent more than a couple of years on rigs could acquire sufficient office experience to become a corporate manager."   He was right.  High level managers in large companies are separated from operations, so their effectiveness is more dependent on ability to negotiate/manipulate/motivate the corporate culture than understanding opreations.        

I don't think Transocean is alone among large corporations, and BP has to be worse.  I don't see how it could be possible for ANYONE to be knowledgeable about every process inside BP.  They have seismic, drilling, transportation, retail, no way could anyone grasp it all.  

The fact is large companies are impossible to manage well in every way.  It's a tough nut to crack, how to you manage a behemoth like a hummingbird?   I don't know and I don't think anyone does.  All we can do is keep trying.  My opinion about Macondo and BP and Transocean is yes there were many failures, but I'm not sure other companies that size could do much better.   To me, the best answer is these mega companies stay out of Operations.  The BPs and XOMs of the world should act like 'Petroleum Investment Banks".  Provide major funding, but hire a more nimble and smaller firm to run the operation.  The corporate mindset is to not want to share the profits.  I bet I could hire a gang of people from this website and blow away ANY major on almost any project, in performance and safety both.  The problem is money.  Most of us are small fry, we need to eat, we can't afford to spend the ten years from great idea to selling oil.     

Comment by Russell Dwayne Olivier on April 20, 2013 at 6:29pm

Well said Mr. DP! I think Mr. Solberg hits the nail dead center as well. *Intimidation* OR, a promise of the joy of being a BP companyman was the straw to break the camel's back.



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