Short-term thinking is no answer. Every field and facility will sooner or later enter the late-life phase.
Never too early
Maintaining safe operation can be challenging when petroleum installations start to approach the end of their commercial life and cessation begins to beckon.
The PSA has been devoting special attention over many years to the industry’s work on aging and producing life extensions, and adopted safe late life as one of its main priorities in 2015.
This has sought to help ensure that fields, installations and plants continue to be operated prudently and in compliance with the regulations as they approach shut-down.
Safe late life has been one of the PSA’s four main priorities in 2016. Now that the authority is concentrating on a single issue in 2017 – reversing the trend – the main priorities are being phased out.
“We’ve wanted to contribute to enhancing knowledge about safety in late life,” explains Sigvart Zachariassen, who has led the PSA’s work on this main priority along with Eivind Jåsund.
“Other aims have been clarifying limits for prudent operation, making players aware of their responsibility, and influencing them to develop secure and robust operating models for this phase.”
The most important issues in 2015-16 were:
- planning and managing at field level to meet late-life challenges
- maintenance management in late life
- drilling and well activities in this phase
- planning, setting priorities and implementing late-life modifications.
“Late life” cannot be defined as a specific age for a field or facility, but will depend on a number of factors related to reservoir conditions and development solutions, says Zachariassen.
“That means companies must think about and plan for this phase as soon as possible. Important preconditions for prudent operation in late life are determined as early as the development stage.”
The companies naturally want to operate fields and facilities as long as profitable. At the same time, their planning for late life often falls short in such areas as expertise and capacity.
Older equipment and systems can mean that safety management is more operational – in other words, with less automation of actions to prevent incidents occurring or curb their escalation.
“Yesterday’s barrier solutions often depend critically on good technical condition and personnel with expertise on and understanding of systems and solutions,” notes Jåsund.
He says this can be a challenge in relation to a change of generations and “silent” knowledge, and emphasises that long-term expertise planning is particularly important.
Where the technical working environment is concerned, the main trend will be a declining standard over the facility’s commercial life.
“Modifications and upgrades often carried out in connection with producing life extensions can directly or indirectly improve the working environment in certain areas,” observes Zachariassen.
“But we see that it’s difficult to secure acceptance for proposed technical improvements to the working environment in late life unless these also yield efficiency gains.”
A natural question is whether late-life conditions increase the risk of undesirable incidents, but the PSA has found no unambiguous answer to this so far.
“We haven’t see any trend here, but certain incidents in recent years may relate to this phase,” says Jåsund. “These include inadequate maintenance, for example.
“Insufficient understanding of the interaction between old and new systems and equipment is another issue which often presents a challenge.
“Many modifications and changes pose a threat of losing the overall picture or failing to understand the function of safety barriers and how these relate to each other.
“The companies accept that facility-specific expertise and robust organisation can be the key to safe operation in late life. However, they’re not always conscious that long-term planning is needed to achieve that.”
The PSA will be continuing its work on safety in the late-life phase. Experience from the main priority is now being incorporated in audits and other supervisory activities, and the authority has clear expectations for the commitment being made.
“Each company must ensure that challenges related to late life don’t clash with prudent operation,” emphasises Ingvill H Foss, a director of supervision at the PSA.
“Compromising on safe operation is out of the question. Safety requirements are the same in all phases of the activity. The companies need to think long-term.
“Ensuring that operations remain robust in late life is important. Good planning will be crucial. The companies must ensure that measures which yield short-term gains today don’t have negative long-term consequences.”