Regulations and procedures in themselves are not enough to ensure safety during oil-drilling operations, conclude SINTEF researchers who have studied the accident investigation reports from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
SINTEF safety researcher Ranveig Kviseth Tinmannsvik says that it is more important than ever for everyone who is involved in drilling operations to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them to deal with the unexpected and to improvise solutions when the situation demands.
The safety researcher points out that the offshore industry has already passed the stage at which organisational conditions were stable and the tasks of individual workers changed little over time.
Safety improvement is a matter of reducing the chances of accidents occurring and limiting the consequences of such accidents as do occur. Precisely because challenges so far have been predictable, the petroleum industry has made significant progress in safety-related efforts with the aid of traditional risk analyses followed up by the use of regulations and procedures," says Tinmannsvik.
However, as the safety researcher points out, the challenges involved have changed.
"Today, a large number of parties need to coordinate their efforts. These organisations are constantly being restructured, and new work processes are being introduced. At the same time, technological development is progressing at a rapid rate, driven by deeper wells and more complex reservoirs. Drilling far out at sea and in difficult reservoirs is a process that involves endless problem-solving, with new unanticipated situations that need to be dealt with on the spot. All this makes new demands of safety expertise," says Tinmannsvik, who continues:
"From now on, the challenge will be to develop resilient organisations in which everyone has a good understanding of risk. At the same time, people need to have sufficient insight to enable them to handle unexpected situations and improvise safely and effectively in critical situations. Or, to put it in other words; we need to develop the ability to deal with unexpected situations that are not captured by risk analyses. Although current risk analysis methods provide a good basis for decision-making in the design phase, we still lack methods that offer us good support for making safety-critical decisions during operations."
Just over a year has passed since the oil and gas blowout on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on the Macondo field off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven lives were lost in the disaster, which resulted in a spill of almost five million barrels of oil.
The disaster also led to the launch of several investigations and studies. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) set up a special group to follow up the disaster, and assigned SINTEF to draw up a report that PSA has used in its own work.
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