Different safety cultures for drilling vs. production?

On May 13, 2013, I had a long chat in the Galleria-area office of Charlie Williams, the executive director of the Center for Offshore Safety (whose earlier career had been with Shell). One of the topics that we discussed was whether or not the case could be made that there is a distinct safety culture that applies to offshore drilling, and another safety culture that applies to offshore production.

This distinction was raised at a session of OTC 2013 by Ian Sutton, a panelist, and it had caught my attention.

Charlie indicated that he doesn’t buy into this distinction: “The principles of safety apply equally to drilling as to production.”

Yet his further comments made me think that there is a case to be made for seeing offshore drilling as requiring a separate safety culture, or, at least, requiring a distinct approach by the operator and contractors. Consider:

  1. In drilling, all but a few of the people onboard the drill rig or ship are contractors; whereas on a production platform the all but a few people are employees of the operator. (Charlie compared running a production platform to running a refinery: everything from one day to the next is pretty much the same.)
  2. In production, risk is a continuous function, one related mainly to maintenance; in drilling, in contrast, the distribution of risk is discontinuous, and is associated with specific events and activities that are unique to a given drill site.
  3. In planning for barriers and mitigation in drilling, the force of nature cannot be predicted with precision; whereas, the pressures on a production platform (as in a refinery) are there by design.
  4. In drilling, everyone on board the drilling platform or vessel should know be aware of the overall sequence of events that are taking place, with an appreciation of the risk involved with each event (drilling, casing, cementing, abandonment), and what is expected of each person in the event of an accident. On a production platform, everyone has a duty station in the event of an accident; but the dynamic is not driven by the risks associated with the phases of the operation.

I’d like to hear from others with experiences in both of these safety environments. Is there a valid case to be made for a distinctive safety culture in drilling operations, or is Charlie correct in saying, basically, that safety is safety, and that there is no point in slicing the subject up into “drilling safety” and “production safety”?

Original blog posting approved by Drilling Ahead: http://www.drillingahead.com/profiles/blogs/different-safety-cultures-for-drilling-vs-production?xg_source=msg_appr_blogpost#ixzz2TnbicycB

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Mexico Energy Intelligence

Baker & Associates offers niche-market business and policy intelligence related to Mexico's oil and gas, power and chemical industries. Over 1,000 reports have been issued in the last 20 years. Subject matter expert and publisher George Baker, who directs the firm, has carried out consulting assignments starting in the late 1970s at the height of the Oil Boom in Mexico. He brings bilingual and bicultural skill-sets to understanding and responding to challenges of business and public policy, coupled with a deep familiarity with the history and idiosyncrasies of the Mexican operating environment.