Offshore drilling safety technology: an overview

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Offshore drilling safety technology is evolving rapidly thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning that are revolutionizing HSE in upstream oil and gas industry. It is critical to take advantage of this evolving phase of technology to maximize work place safety in offshore industry due to the high rate of fatal accidents that has taken many lives, endangered environment and cost billions of dollars. But what technology is the best for offshore drilling safety?

We will find the answer in this article so managers can make an informed decision about their offshore drilling safety technology to save lives and ecosystem.

best available and safest technologies (BAST) can reduce accidents in drilling rig
best available and safest technologies (BAST) can reduce accidents in drilling rig

What is the best available and safest technology (BAST)?

Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 was a turning point for oil and gas industry that led officials such as Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in the US to ask the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council to reconsider the current technologies and find best available and safest technologies (BAST).

BAST is considered as a technology that can minimize the risks and hazards to the workers and environment while being aligned with ALARP principle which is abbreviation for “as low as reasonably practicable”.

This offshore drilling safety technology should maximize occupational safety and health in offshore oil and gas industry while protecting ecosystem in a meaningful way. It eventually leads to saving massive amount of money that is being spent annually on injuries and damages.

How to implement BAST?

Due to the complexity of conditions in offshore drilling safety technology, implementing BAST is a long process which require a portfolio of efforts through research and testing in different stages that can be summarized in the following 6 stages:

1. Identifying technologies

BAST candidates are often result of a push dynamic that starts by exploration of new hydrocarbon reservoirs. Due to the technical challenges that become more demanding as exploration activity moves into deep water or formations with high temperature or pressure, a technology must be innovated that is fit for purpose to supply new demands and enhance mechanical integrity for better safety and higher productivity.

There is also a pull dynamic that is created by safety reporting systems in which incidents and accidents are both recorded to identify potential risks such as human error and machine malfunction. The data analysis can highlight the areas where BAST candidates can enhance safety.

One such offshore drilling safety technology is intelligent HSE that is utilizing artificial intelligence to detect safety hazards in real time and notify HSE managers. This technology alone has a major impact on minimizing number of accidents in offshore drilling operations.

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2. Evaluating technologies

BAST candidates should be evaluated against all conditions of the system in which they will operate including the complexity of the entire system, interactions between all components, humans and geologic environment.

Added to the current conditions is the uncertainty factor due to the fact that current offshore drilling safety technology cannot predict all geologic aspects of offshore environment.

Developing technologies can enhance safety in offshore drilling rig
Developing technologies can enhance safety in offshore drilling rig

3. Developing technologies

The priority is an in-depth understanding of existing capabilities in industry and government that include what capabilities exists, who has access to it, what individuals and organizations have the expertise and skills for testing and development activities and where the gaps are. This understanding will help priorities basic and applied research that guides funding allocation in which greatest impact is achieved toward BAST.

There are different categories of offshore drilling safety technology such as high-priority critical technologies, long-term goals, out-of-the-box ideas, big-picture questions and short-term seed funding of novel ideas all of which require different approaches.

4. Funding technologies

Costs play a huge role in implementing BAST as there are acquisition and sustainment costs as well as disruptions to drilling operations. Utilizing immature technologies or the ones not fit for the intended purpose will also increase costs which is a major concern for the industry.

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5. Building technology facilities

An independent institute such as ocean energy safety institute (OESI) can support technology assessment and facilitate retention of knowledge and experience that improves offshore safety but it will face major challenges at start up. The OESI is best located in areas that facilitate free flow of offshore drilling safety technology from industry to institute as well as access to experienced staff that can act as consultants. Temporary assignments can also be given to industry personnel in order to grow capabilities that aid in implementation of BAST. OSEI has a critical role in directing resources so BAST can be matured.

There are also stand-alone entities such as federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) and the university-affiliated research center (UARC) that can fulfill special needs respectively such as long-term research and development or education.

A compendium of worldwide test facilities is also a good idea to determine where to test introductions into the BAST. International cooperation and agreements are needed for such compendium that can be done effectively by BSEE. Such compendium should discuss industry test plans in order to exploit opportunities for BAST introduction in these facilities. Alternative courses of action could also be identified to effectively use facilities and develop industry or government-sponsored centers to complement the current company-centric approach.

6. Hiring skills and experiences

Alongside building the compendium, personnel with relevant skill and experience should also be identified to use such facilities. Requisite expertise of multidisciplinary group of individuals in engineering, economic and scientific fields is needed to face the challenges of technology assessments and economic analyses.

On top of the structure, there should be a chief engineer or scientist with technical experience and expertise in offshore drilling safety technology, exploration and production.

There is also the need for meaningful involvement of all stakeholders such as oil and gas industry, environmental organizations and even general public in order to provide input to OESI on long and short-term initiatives.

Conclusion

Offshore drilling safety technology is a complex subject matter that requires a total system perspective on safety including occupational safety, process safety and supporting elements such as marine systems with emphasis on aspects of offshore operations that are industry specific.

Best available and safest technologies (BAST) are identified, evaluated and developed through a long process by independent institutes such as ocean energy safety institute (OESI) or federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) and the university-affiliated research center (UARC). The push and pull dynamics resulted from explorations of new reservoirs or accidents in current drilling rigs are the major causes of innovating novel technologies.

One such innovation that has passed many tests is the intelligent HSE management system that is powered by AI and play a key role in maximizing offshore drilling safety. Connected to the CCTV cameras already located throughout the site, all safety risks and violations can be detected in real time to prevent accidents that might lead to fatality or environmental damages. The lives that can be saved and the ecosystem that can be protected is worth the effort that ultimately leads to more profits for investors.

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