The HSE challenges faced by the oil and gas industry

The safety of the oil and gas industry is high on the agenda across the world and incidents such as the blowout at Montara in the Timor sea and the spill in the Gulf of Mexico simply further highlight this fact. It is clear to the average person that the industry is high-hazard and that there is real potential for loss of life. In Australia there is a small population in relation to the size of the country and especially its coastline. Much of the oil and gas activity takes place off-shore, away from support and infrastructure. This has meant that the logistics surrounding an incident can be complicated compared with places like the Gulf of Mexico and the North sea where facilities are readily available. The oil industry is having to face up to more scrutiny in the wake of the incidents mentioned above – just like other E&P areas across the globe. Local communities have high expectations especially when it comes to the environment and in areas such as the pristine Australian coast, this is even more important to locals. In Brazil, the main HSE challenge faced by the oil and gas industry is the ultra-deepwater environment and the pre-salt reserves associated with them. The right drilling technology is required to allow the salt layer to be surpassed at high temperatures and under very high pressure. Transportation of the hydrocarbon which is produced is also another complicating factor, however this is a factor common to many other HSE regions. Other factors include the improvement of the perception of risk, the development of safety performance indicators and more worthwhile contingency plans. A clear and consistent regulatory environment which can take account of changes in technology, but which also encourages the industry to improve their operations is important. The Deepwater Horizon incident has highlighted to Norway that the levels of safety should be looked at, despite the country having an excellent record. It has indicated that levels of safety across the entire petroleum industry should be improved. A study carried out in 2010 which looked into the Norwegian petroleum industry showed that there was an increase in incidents which were well controlled and that gas leaks were back at higher levels. This is despite the industry in the area seeking to reduce the number of hydrocarbon leaks and that targets had been set to reduce to reasonable levels. The industry needs to develop measures which can reverse this trend. The indicators of a major incident are moving in a negative direction and this is a major cause for concern. Meanwhile the UK Continental Shelf is likely to remain in use for many years to come despite already being an ageing asset. In fact many off-shore assets have surpassed their original shelf life as designed. This has led to challenges to the delivery of the right level of standards and the control of major risks and hazards. The decommissioning of these off-shore infrastructures has been slow, despite being promised and so, the industry needs to remain focused on the control of hazards during these unpredictable times. In off-shore operations, there were no fatalities during 2010/11, for the fourth year running and major injuries also fell. During the year the rate of deaths and injuries fell to just 151.8 out of every 100,000 persons compared to the previous year. This shows an overall downward trend. Minor injuries have also fallen to an all time low over a three day injury rate. When it comes to releases of hydrocarbons, they have been reduced significantly compared to 2009/10, but this still remains within the average for the previous five years and this plateau is proving hard to break.