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Audit of organisational and human factors in connection with well control – ExxonMobil Norge and North Atlantic Drilling

From 26 August to 11 September 2013, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) conducted an audit of how ExxonMobil Norge (EM) and North Atlantic Drilling (NAD) would safeguard organisational and human factors when handling the potential loss of well control.


The audit was based on the drilling of wells in the Balder field using the West Alpha facility, including the current well 25/11-B-24 H.

The main topics of the audit were:

  • Decision-support, decision criteria and processes, including risk assessments and analyses
  • Well control procedures
  • Instruction, competence and training
  • Information presentation and processing
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Communication between the operator, drilling contractors, and drilling and well service contractors in planning and performing the drilling operation
  • Change management

Background
The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) works to risk-based criteria, i.e. by focusing on areas with high risk potential. In particular, two of the main priorities for the PSA in 2013 relate to major accident risk: "Barriers shall be safeguarded thoroughly and consistently so as to reduce the risk of major accidents as far as possible" and "Management at all levels in the industry shall work to reduce major accident risk and ensure that this work is performed thoroughly."

One key plank in the PSA's priorities for 2013 has been follow-up of mobile facilities. The audit of the handling of well control at West Alpha is therefore a follow-up of the PSA's priorities for 2013.

A study of well control conducted under the auspices of the PSA, RNNP (The trends in risk level in the petroleum activity), published on 25 April 2012 also forms part of the basis for audit activities on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Results from this study are followed up in this audit.

Following the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010, a joint working programme for the authorities was set up in the North Sea Offshore Authorities Forum (NSOAF).

It was decided to conduct a series of audits in five countries (Norway, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany) on the theme of organisational and human factors relating to well control. Two pilot audits were carried out in the spring of 2012, one in the Norwegian sector, one in the UK sector. The remaining audits were conducted in the autumn of 2012.

The experiences from this series of audits will be summarised in a joint report of the NSOAF.

The present audit is not part of the NSOAF's working programme, but is largely based on the same audit method and forms part of the PSA's follow-up based on experiences ensuing from the Deepwater Horizon accident.

The audit paid special attention to the aspects of the socio-technical system in which people are key contributors who use and interact with technical systems, including in coordination with other people. The audit focused on how the organisations plan the drilling operation and how human and organisational factors are managed in order to safeguard well control. We concentrated especially on the period immediately leading up to a potential well control incident. In such a situation, the most critical human factor will be the assessment of whether the blowout preventer (BOP) should be activated and then the actual activation of the BOP. The audit concerned communication between the parties involved, including between drillers and mud loggers, and drillers and supervisors.

Handling of well control therefore involves coordination between various actors – operator, drilling contractor, and drilling and well service companies – and requires them to have established a common situational awareness.

Objective
The objective of the audit was for the companies to demonstrate to the PSA that they had established a functional management system and associated work processes to contribute to assuring well control. We wanted to verify how the loss of well barriers and the risk of loss of well control were identified and handled, and that assessments, decisions and measures associated with a well control incident were implemented in such a way that the state of the well could be normalised with the least possible risk. This audit paid particular attention to the aspects of the socio-technical system to which people are key contributors. The audit focused on how the organisations had planned the drilling operation and how human and organisational factors were managed in order to safeguard well control.

We especially wanted to focus on the period immediately leading up to a potential well control incident. In such a situation, the most critical human contribution will be early detection of a developing incident, the assessment of whether the blowout preventer (BOP) should be activated and then the actual activation of the BOP.

Results
During the audit, we gained an impression that EM and NAD had recently carried out certain activities that are relevant for increasing awareness of the risks associated with drilling operations, and better detection and management of well control. At the time of the audit, work had begun on preparing barrier diagrams, simulator training and scenario-based training. We also note that scenario-based drills have led to increased involvement of third-party contractors. Nonetheless, we believe that the work on risk management associated with well control can be reinforced and enhanced.

The audit identified the following non-conformities:

  • Deficient application of competence, training and drill (EM and NAD)
  • Deficient maintenance (NAD)
  • Deficient management of working environment risk (EM and NAD)
  • Deficient labelling of equipment (NAD)
  • The companies do not operate in accordance with their own management systems (EM and NAD)
  • Failures in follow-up of responses from previous audits (NAD)

Øyvind Midttun, Press contact
Email: oyvind.midttun@ptil.no | +47 51 87 34 77