An uncontrolled hydrocarbon release is one of the worst possible scenarios that an operating facility can experience. Not only are the safety barriers compromised, exposing the asset and people to significantly more risk, but the economic, business and environmental consequences can be detrimental.
Add Energy’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr Ole Rygg, is a seasoned expert in well and blowout support, and has held senior roles within blowout control teams for over 40 significant hydrocarbon releases across the globe, including the high profile Macondo, Montara and Elgin Franklin blowout disasters.
In this blog, Ole discusses the challenges he has experienced during the crucial period of response and offers advice on how to better prepare your organisation for one of the worst possible scenarios.
Common challenges associated with regaining control
The processes of regaining control of an uncontrolled hydrocarbon release is undoubtably an extremely stressful situation for the blowout control team. Not only is the team under immense pressure to eliminate the initial hazard (e.g. putting the fires out) and locating the source of the release as quickly as possible, but they are also tasked with additional challenges associated with:
- Logistics – getting access to the equipment you need, and getting it to the location in a timely manner can cause delays in the process if the location is remote, requires custom clearance, or has not been considered as part of the contingency plan
- Resource availability – this can range from a drilling rig to a directional drilling specialist, whereby they are in some instances, already being utilized on other operations, this can incur delays and significant additional costs
- Media attention – unwanted attention and pressure of the media that typically surrounds a hydrocarbon release can cause extra strain and pressure for the well control team, which can sometimes make the process inefficient
- Expectation management – naturally, the organizations leadership want the incident to be controlled in the quickest possible manner, and pressure to do this can create obstacles for the well control team, as such, setting and managing the timeline expectations of the process to the organization’s leadership is key
- Inadequate contingency plan –I have seen many generic well control contingency plans that are presented during the initial discussions that have not been aligned to the asset, location and operating criteria, making them impossible to follow, meaning additional time was spent putting a plan in place that should have already been developed
The process of regaining control
There is no off the shelf solution to well control because every organisation and incident has different challenges and logistics. The company’s blowout contingency plan should drive the process, and have all critical inputs identified in order to control the release efficiently and effectively.
The first 24 hours are critical, and the number 1 priority during this time is to eliminate the initial hazards, to ensure the location is safe to begin well control investigation and source control. To give you a flavour of what typically happens during this time, here is a summary of the key milestones in the process of regaining control:
- Forming a recovery team of subject matter experts, aligned with the contingency plan
- Initial review of the situation to identify the requirements of external support, such as equipment and specialist expertise - which again should be identified within the contingency plan, to reduce time trying to identify resources during a time when you need to focus on implementing the recovery plan
- Gathering and analysing data to begin investigating the root cause
- Generating the findings report and detailed plan on how the team will intervene to plug the source of release
- Analysis of suitable intervention options, e.g. relief well, direct intervention, etc
- Development of the intervention procedure
- Initiating the intervention operation
- Development of final report with lessons learned and recommendations for future contingency planning
- Expert witness support for legal disputes
Preparing for the worst
Being part of numerous well control teams, it is fair to say that I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of source control operations. Without a doubt, there are some unfortunate events that are out of your control during the process, but 90% of the time, you are in control of the situation, and it’s the actions that have been taken to prepare your organisation for a well control release, that have the most impact on how efficiently and effectively the process is run.
Here are some lessons that I have learned through my experience:
- Form a small team of experts that are experienced and competent enough to make critical decisions in a timely manner, too many cooks can spoil the broth, and the result is inferior. I would recommend a core team no larger than let’s say 8 people
- Continuously review your well control contingency plan to be aligned with the operating environment of the asset that is has been designed for, this will save you time and money during the implementation of that plan. I would recommend reviewing this every year or when material changes to the ongoing operation happens
- Assure you have key resources, such as specialist advisors and equipment pre-defined to avoid wasting time researching suitable options during panic mode
- If you don’t have the competence in house, don’t hesitate to seek specialist support, this is one of the most critical documents your team will ever develop, and it needs to be holistically vetted in order to steer the team and manage risks
- Ensure you have a clear RACI chart in place to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each team member within the response team to avoid duplication of effort, or worse still, critical tasks being missed
- Look at the possible risk events and simulate different scenarios to test your response plan, this will help to identify gaps in your plan and assure preparedness
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