5.0 RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSION
The Deepwater Horizon rig is the property of Transocean who contracted British Petroleum to drill the Macondo exploration well. On the 20th of April 2010, the rig sank and a blow out occurred at the Macondo exploration well which led to the death of 11 people and left several others critically injured. The investigations into the cause of the blow out pointed to technical failures coupled with human error on the part of the rig personnel and the management at British Petroleum. Following the blow out, it was and still is imperative to take precaution in order to prevent to the occurrence of another blow out. The recommendations geared towards preventing another blow out in future cover the following aspects: procedures and engineering technical practices, audits and verification, capability and competency. To begin with, there are varying opinions over changes that should be made regarding on shore drilling safety and environmental regulation. The changes on the drilling safety not only need to be implemented by the industry players but also by external agencies such as the government and the environmental agencies.
One of the recommendations that was made by the US government following the Macondo blow out is the Drilling Safety Rule which addresses both the integrity of the well bore and the well control equipment. The provisions of this rule are as follows: it requires that a registered professional engineer submits certification that indicates the casing and cementing programs are appropriate for the indicated purposes. The drilling company is also required to submit documents showing the status of the control equipment. It requires that a third party ought to verify whether the blind shear rams are capable of cutting any drill pipe in the hole under maximum anticipated surface pressure. The implementation of this rule is going to be costly but it will ensure that the technical inadequacies that led to the blow out at Macondo oil rig are kept at a minimum.
Another recommendation that would be critical in prevention of the occurrence of the Macondo blow out is the Work Safety Rule. The Work Safety Rule which was published in 2010 is a continuation of another rule known as the Safety and Environmental Management Systems which had been published in 2009. The Work Safety rule recommends the following practices and stipulates that they are mandatory: to begin with, the drilling facility ought to avail safety and environmental information regarding the design of the facility, the flow process diagrams and components that are mechanical such as piping.
The facility is required to institute safe work practices which include clearly spelt out rules of conduct spelt out in manuals. Workers ought to be properly trained on safe work practices. The workers who receive training include any contractors who could be working at the facility. The mechanical integrity of the machines used at the facility ought to be frequently checked by conducting routine maintenance programmes and quality control procedures.
Any incidents whether minor or major ought to be thoroughly investigated in order to determine the causes and subsequently put in place the appropriate corrective measures. In addition to this, a follow up ought to be carried out after any incident in order to ensure that the necessary steps have been undertaken in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such an incident. The Work Safety Rule also recommends that regular audits be conducted at drilling facilities. Proper records should also be maintained showing compliance with the safety regulations in addition to the mitigation measures that have put in place in the event of disaster.
Information ought to be gathered and disseminated in order to prevent the occurrence of a blow out such as the one that took place at Macondo. All over the world, different governments have put in place different types of protocols for collecting and dissemination of information regarding near miss incidents at oil wells. For several years, oil drilling information have always collected information about drilling activities that are on going on off shores. However, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the oil and gas companies are often reluctant to share information about omissions, errors, lapses in judgement and procedural violations. This is done in order to avoid potential legal suits which could result in massive financial losses.
Reporting of incidents should be facilitated in such a manner that it can be done anonymously. The reporting procedure ought to be co-ordinated country wide and also worldwide in order to allow the industry players to learn from one another. A detailed account of the learnt lessons ought to be made available to the industry players. Based on this information, better training can be conducted on disaster preparedness and better mitigation measures can be put in place.
Research is also a critical aspect of the improvement of safety. About 20 years, drilling activities began on the Gulf of Mexico. Much of research and development activities at that time and even now are mainly geared towards exploration and the exploitation of natural gas resources, as a result, there have little improvements made to the safety and risk assessment. Research would help in the development of better software for the interpretation of data from the oil drills, more sensitive alarms systems, automated shut down procedures that can sense deviations from the norm and systems that can capture , relay and interpret real time data.
Operating companies should also bear greater responsibility in understanding the geological characteristics of the oil rig, the local weather, the sub surface, the sea floor and the environment of the well being drilled. In addition to this, they should also be involved in the selection of the drilling equipment and ensure that it is safe, reliable and certified for the intended purposes. The design of the well and the adherence to the safety program should also be the responsibility of the operating company unlike in the case of Macondo blow out where Halliburton was allocated these duties with little supervision from BP. Instead of just relying on one man to co-ordinate the activities of the contractors, the company ought to put in place a system that allows for appropriate transfer and communication of knowledge, the progress made, the challenges that have been met and the measures put in place to mitigate the challenges.
In order to prevent future blow outs, measures should be put in place to ensure that the capping and containment capabilities of the well are within the industry requirements. During the Macondo blow out, the system failed to contain thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons which went ahead and spilled below the surface of the sea. Containment of the flow of hydrocarbons was therefore left to the operator who had to use trial and error methods in order to prevent further spills. This includes the use of risers, caps and other types of equipment which ultimately led to time and resource wastage before the flow was finally contained. The containment process took several months before the flow was finally stopped. This pointed to the inefficiencies of the subsea systems that had been installed. The Helix well containment group is an example of a company that has worked towards developing subsea systems that are more effective in preventing spills. The company which is made up of a consortium of companies has well developed research and development unit which is run by resources that are drawn from the member companies. The research and development unit is charged with the responsibility of coming up with rapid intervention, response and containment measures.
Each company in the oil and gas industry is charged with the responsibility of training its staff on safety and risk assessment. There is no standard training manual hence there are variant forms of qualifications and training manuals. It is important for the players in the industry to standardise the training and also provide regular tests to those who have been trained. The competency levels of the personnel ought to be assessed from time to time in order to determine disaster preparedness. In addition to this, training should not just limited to the rig personnel but should also be extended to managers who are charged with the responsibility of making critical decisions about drilling activities. The competencies of those who work in the oil drilling facilities ought to be carefully gauged and regular refresher courses should be carried out in order to enhance the capabilities of the rig personnel.
Human error management is also an area that is slowly developing as a result of the frequency of accidents that are caused by human error. Error management is a two pronged approach: it entails creation of systems that are more resistant to errors in addition to limiting the occurrence of errors. One of the approaches that have been developed off the systems approach of accident investigation is high reliability organizations. Such an organization is designed to function during the worst of circumstance whereby the control shifts to the expert on the ground. The flexibility is borrowed from the military. However, studies conducting on the efficacy of this model of error management at nuclear power plants and air traffic control centres indicate that the model is very complex and difficult to maintain.
The Macondo blow out was the result of technical mishaps coupled with human error. Eleven lives were lost and the environment bore the brunt of the hydrocarbon flow that went on for months. In order to prevent such an occurrence in future, it is important that oil companies put in place safety and risk assessment measures. The companies should also carry out regular audits, train their staff often and also service and maintain the drilling equipment.
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