Since the Deepwater Horizon incident and the subsequent offshore drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), folks in the oil and gas industry have been talking about the ramifications to operations.

Though no one knows yet what will change for GoM operations, an obvious focus will be (and should be) safety, and industry organizations already are working on ways for improvement. In July 2010, the Houston Advanced Research Center hosted a technology workshop to identify research and technology needs. The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America held a panel discussion at the forum to address deepwater development needs moving forward.

Tom Williams, managing director at Nautilus International LLC, said risk actually will increase when drilling eventually resumes. Williams gave several reasons for his prediction. First, stopping in the middle of operations likely will make it difficult to jump back in once activity resumes. Second, he expects an increase in tanker traffic.

Finally, exporting the best rigs and the loss of experienced drilling staff to active locations internationally will make it difficult to bring the highest quality equipment and personnel back to the GoM. “The best rigs and responsible drillers will get work and go elsewhere,” Williams said. “We’ll end up with ‘junkier’ rigs (they’ll still meet regulations, but they’ll be less capable).” Further, recruitment of new people will stop since the best and brightest likely will not apply for uncertain jobs, he added.

Williams also noted that employees (returning and new) will require additional training and certification. “As with the baseball offseason, players need a spring training to get back in shape,” he said. “From a safety standpoint, we can’t afford to have spring training.”

Taking into account lessons learned from occurrences similar to the event in the GoM, Greg Anderson, international board director and consulting and training president for Moody International, said the 1988 Piper Alpha tragedy in the North Sea focused attention on the impact of people’s behavior as a contributing factor in accidents.

“Whether Piper Alpha or any other incident, large or small, over 97% of the time human behavior plays a significant role,” Anderson said. “A key focus area needs to be how does a company or industry create a culture of safety where people ‘believe in’ versus ‘comply with’ safety.”

According to Anderson, “A culture of compliance only works under 1) constant supervision; and 2) absolute adherence to policies and procedures.” To create a culture of safety and compliance, he recommended addressing the “human element” by teaching people to:
•    Take personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of those around them;
•    Assess risk and reduce hazards associated with a task; and
•    Communicate better.

Although safety procedures can have a direct impact on employees working on the rigs (both onshore and offshore), it is evident from the Deepwater Horizon incident that those effects can ripple throughout the company and all the way to the top.

In the wake of the event in the GoM, companies, operators, and more importantly, individuals should lead by example and hold one another accountable for keeping up with the highest safety standards and practices. Safety legislation and regulations can only go so far. Ultimately, employees choosing to work safely without taking shortcuts and rewarding and tolerating the same behavior in others will drive a culture of safety.   To view the actual blog, click here.