Process Safety Management in Oil and Gas Operations

Offshore drilling to acquire oil and natural gas has been one of the most debated issues in congress for the last four decades. The political scene suggests that the offshore drilling is responsible for the damage of the environment through spillages and fires. The politicians and environmentalists do not realize that offshore drilling can lead to disaster. They also ignore other environmentally challenging issues like coal mining and automobile’s pollution. In this case, many safety management protocols have resulted into consideration regarding the historical incidents and accidents that have been associated with offshore drilling. The political scene has been on the regulatory prospect in representing the government in terms of implementing policies that work towards the realization of proper management methods in the oil and gas industry (Neil, 32).

The effect politicians have had in the offshore drilling processes and areas of drilling has not affected processes safety management very positively. Politics and public opinion control the places and areas that have large amounts of deposits in regards to disasters that have occurred in those areas. Considering that many of the environmental problems that have been created by offshore drilling for the past four decades affect the residents near the disasters, public opinion is centered on the effects they brought to them. The political parties and presidential candidates of such countries as the USA conduct congress debates and make campaign speeches centered at the issue aiming at redressing faith in the public proponent.

Given that political parties and the public opinion have been heard and translated to mean controversy and search for attention, it is the oil and gas industry that implements the processes; therefore, safety management is centered at the industry’s practice. The need for processes safety management is to ensure that dangers associated with the industry are handled and limited beforehand. The processes of drilling of offshore oil and gas involve the initial stage of drilling, sealing leakages from the seabed crust, pumping the oil or gas to the surface, and transporting the product from the offshore mining plant to onshore areas. These processes have the same if not slightly varied probability of causing environmental hazards.  The drilling process, which is the initial stage of set of processes, has the potential of causing a crustal leakage and can spill thousands gallons of oil or gas into the sea before it can be handled. During the sealing processes, the crust that is punched by the seismic air guns may develop a weakness around the seal; oil can leak due to pressure. On the stage of siphoning the oil from the seabed to the surface, pipes used to carry the crude oil or gas may burst or develop leakages, therefore, resulting in environmental damage. Finally, the transportation stage, which involves the transfer of the crude products from the site to onshore storages, is done through pipes and tankers.

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As seen above, the processes involved in the oil and gas industry have a significant chance of causing environmental issues that require management. The oil and gas industry involves activities that cause health, safety, and environmental problems. In this regard, process safety management aims at safeguarding the drilling, sealing, and transportation process to avoid damage to the environment, ensure safety of the personnel, and the general health of the people living around the areas.

Onshore Drilling

Onshore drilling is the drilling of oil and gas in an inland area rather than under the seabed; this has been regarded by many groups as the answer to the HSE (Health, Safety, and Environment) questions that have been raised for the past four decades. Onshore drilling is not an answer to the issues that are associated with offshore drilling; it is an alternative to a different set of issues that can potentially affect people’s health, safety, and environment. Considering that most people affected by offshore drilling complain of dirtied beaches and dead aquatic life, those affected by onshore drilling do not complain mostly because most of them die in the disasters such as fires and explosions. However, comparing onshore with offshore drilling, health, safety, and the environment are highly affected by the onshore drilling than the offshore one. As much as the industry and the political scene assumes onshore drilling is safe, the proximity of danger is more certain than in offshore drilling. Seepage and leakage in offshore drilling results in dirtying of beaches, migration of sea animals, and floating of oil on water while, on the other hand, onshore drilling results in pollution of the environment and seepage to the ground, fires and explosions, release of fumes to the atmosphere, and displacement of wildlife (Culleton, 23).

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In spite of the efforts of governments to regulate the industry, it is the duty of the industry to implement process safety management policies and strategies that address issues in regards to the environment and nature of events taking place in the industry (Mark, 52).

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the regions that have the largest oil and gas deposits in the world. The US, on the other hand, consumes up to 25% of world’s petroleum but only contributes about 10% of the total. In this case, the US’s organizations thrive to create and discover as many oil deposits as possible to address their petroleum needs. In this case, the ruthlessness in dealing with effects of offshore mining with proper process safety management has caused the US millions of dollars damage. The hard hit regions include the Bayou Lafourche, at the southern tip of Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico and Santa Barbara, California. The Santa Barbara oil spill is responsible for the spilling of 3 million gallons of oil in the year 1969. The blame for the incident lies on the technological developments of the nation back at that time. However, considering that spacecrafts were not built to ferry passengers until the technology that ensured their safety was invented, it is unprecedented for the oil industry to shift the responsibility on the technology that did not exist. Besides the use of ancient technology and equipment, processes of drilling should have been addressed with drillers calibrated or tested.

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In this regard, the specification of the drilling rig as well as the pressure of the oil deposits should have been inspected for defects. A blow-out on the drilling rig was responsible for the Santa Barbara oil spill. The process safety management tool, HAZOP was not taken into consideration. Such negligence resulted in the spill of 3 million gallons of crude oil. Considering that drilling is a process, pipes and equipment used in the drilling and siphoning of the oil should have been calibrated in a way that they could handle high pressure. High pressure from the oil deposits overcame the resistance of pipes and resulted into a blow-out. This is because the number of liters per second allowed by the pipes was not sufficient to carry the amount of oil that was disseminated by the pressure.

On April 20th, 2010, the BP Macondo drilling site suffered a wellhead blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico causing 210 million gallons of oil to spill over the surrounding areas. The spill is considered as one of the biggest in the history of petroleum. This is because it flowed continuously for three months with very little being done. Considering the level of technology at the time of the oil spill, the claim that blame for the incident lies on technology does not have any grounds. The oil spill was damaging in terms of safety in that it caused the high alarm rate on fires and death to aquatic life. As to the health issue, people in this area survived through fishing; this form of livelihood was cut short by the spill. Given that a number of contaminants was released into the water, toxins from elements such as mercury and various hydrocarbons might have made it into the bodies of the marine animals consumed by people.

Regarding Hazard Identification Study (HazID), the process’s components were not broken down to satisfactory bits; hence the chance of accident occurrence could not be determined. The process of installing pipes or maintaining drilling equipment involves the identification of the problem and the possibility of solving it in the best way possible. Expenses in the process safety management are not an element of concern as the health, safety, and conservation of the environment affect people’s daily lives much more than the financial gains of the oil industries. The cost of scanning for errors in all components of a project take in to the consideration HSE aspects first then followed by the economic prospects of the project. The BP oil spill can be classified in grounds as one of the disasters that are caused by negligence, as well as improper management of the processes’ safety (Daniel, 28).

Since April 2010, the BP oil spill has never been fully contained as analysis still report of seepages and leakages from the well. The extensive damage to the environment and the health hazard that the oil leak poses are large enough to change the socioeconomic aspects associated with the Gulf of Mexico. However, considering that most oil spills have been used as examples for the oil industry, keen management approaches are being applied through government interventions. Currently, the judiciary has intervened in the case of BP oil spill and is charging the then CEO of BP with various charges of negligence and failure to take stern action.

In the wake of a new wave of technological advancements, the oil and gas industry is much concerned with an implemented technology that can control process and ensure safety. Management means the planning, organizing and implementing of strategies that work towards healthy addressing of project processes. In the planning phase, the application of both HazID and HAZOP management tools, specifications that work for the equipment to be used are determined and implemented before the projects can commence. The reason why the surveyors and geologists are deployed in areas with oil and gas deposits is the identification of the depth of the deposits and the amount of pressure at which the deposits may contain. Concerning the issue of toxins and contaminants, samples are taken from the deposits and examined before the projects can commence to determine the elements present as well as the possible outcome if such elements came to contact with the environment. In the 21st century, technology has helped the oil industry to determine the causal aspects of disasters. These causal aspects include instability of the crustal rocks, the amount of pressure that has built up due to high temperatures. In this case, determination of aspects that may cause health and safety issues have been addressed hence limiting the number of disaster cases.

The fact that technology has been used to enhance the planning and organizing stages of projects is accountable for the limited number of spillages that have occurred since 1969. On the other hand, specification of tools, equipment, and regulators has helped the oil and gas industry to use the right equipment for various tasks therefore limiting the number of errors that can occur. The safety and health of employees and the public, and the conservation of the environment depend on the proper management of processes through the installation of equipment that can handle a task and the employment of technology that synthesizes the processes and associated perils (Wellington, &Fabschi, 39).

Future Prospects and Recommendations on the Process Safety Management

Currently, a pipe of diameter X can carry about 35 gallons of oil per second under pressure of Y N/M2 under temperatures not below and not exceeding 67%u02DA and 71%u02DA Celsius. The above specifications fall under the HAZOP management tool and determine the safety of drilling oil under those conditions. Given that, in the last few decades tremors have been experienced both in the sea and in dry land; the future prospects on safety management should focus on disaster associated not with the equipment but rather with natural causes. In this case, the better the technology becomes the higher the chances of preventing disasters resembling those that have been experienced in the past. It would be possible for engineers constructing the drilling sites to determine the stability of the crust rock and the stability of the entire region in terms of seismic zone, violent wind path, and heat wave destinations. The fact that oil and gas pipes explode due to increased temperatures does not mean that engineers get a grasp of that idea. The reason is that heat and cold fronts in the sea and on earth can cause equipment alter specification like maximum diameter allowance for pipes, higher or lower temperatures, and increase or decrease in pressure.

The above aspects can be determined through the assessment of gas and oil rich areas in order to assist in the specification stages of equipment and materials to be used. Self-regulation systems will improve the general standards followed in the process safety management. The systems will be able to regulate temperature with regard to environmental and climatic temperature changes. On the other hand, technology used to determine the instability levels of any given area would present the oil industry with relevant information on the HazID tool of management. This information will be used in the planning, organizing, and implementation stages for safety procedures that not only help the industry to cut on spillage and seepage losses but also to ensure that health, safety, and environment aspects are addressed.

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