Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Generators humming

The sound of generators is common across Houston following Hurricane Ike, which wiped out power to much of the city. The longer my neighborhood goes without power, the more generators I hear at night through my open bedroom windows.

Shortly before Ike struck Galveston, Tex., on Sept. 13, I received a news release from Colonial Pipeline Co. about how Colonial nearly used its generators following Hurricane Gustav, which knocked out electricity at three of Colonial’s central Louisiana stations on Sept. 1.

Colonial bought portable generators after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Following Gustav’s landfall along the Louisiana coast earlier this month, Colonial crews were about 1 hr away from cranking up the generators to restart operations at the Baton Rouge plant when commercial power was restored.

In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused Colonial to shut down completely for 2 days each time. Colonial spokesman Steve Baker says lessons learned in those hurricanes contributed to Colonial quickly restoring pipeline service during this hurricane season.

Meanwhile, I am wondering if electricity to my home will be restored if I go buy a generator, assuming I could even find one to buy in Houston right now. Colonial was wise to buy its generators when it did.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Houston life days after Ike

Hurricane Ike raged around my southwest Houston home for what seemed like a long time. The storm ripped off some shingles but left the tar paper intact. Ike destroyed a couple of trees, but otherwise my household fared well.

The storm also uprooted an energy infrastructure that most Americans take for granted. My biggest concerns today—beyond weekly magazine deadlines—are when I might find some gasoline and when my house might get electricity restored.

A local public relations spokeswoman compares hurricane-recovery life to the Twilight Zone. My response is that there are some Mad Max moments, particularly in the car.

At the Oil & Gas Journal office, everything appears normal. But safety logistics of the commute home quickly remind me that normal routine remains suspended. It’s tricky crossing busy intersections without working traffic lights.

Motorists face long waits at the limited number of gas stations having electricity with which to run their pumps. Sometimes, police officers are there to direct traffic. When you do get to an open pump, typically cash is required, and you are limited in how much gasoline you can purchase.

Like Houston Mayor Bill White says, this is called a disaster area for a reason. I can only imagine what it must be like for oil companies trying to restore operations while checking on the welfare of all their employees.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

UK updates offshore safety training

The UK offshore oil and gas industry has updated safety training standards through an initiative called Step Change in Safety. The update was developed in part as a response to concerns from the work force about the basic safety competence of new employees.

The intention was to improve the consistency of safety training. This is yet another example of companies working together to improve safety.

John Methven, co-chair of Step Change in Safety, said every UKCS worker previously was required to complete basic survival training. But that training did not necessarily cover such topics as risk assessment, process safety, or platform integrity because the content of in-house safety training varied from company to company.

Under the update, new elements were added to the basic training program administered through a registered training center. Methven said the update was made to ensure the same starting level of safety awareness for every employee working in the UK Continental Shelf.

OPITO, the UK’s industry standards organization, reports oil and gas production supports 380,000 jobs in the UKCS. A second phase of Step Change in Safety is aimed at identifying and correcting any gaps in the training program for experienced workers.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sustainable process safety

The definition of sustainability seemingly is becoming broader. As an oil and gas reporter, I traditionally think of sustainability in terms of sustainable development of oil and natural gas as it relates to the environment and the economy.

One consultant recently suggested sustainability includes the downstream industry’s ability to sustain a high standard of process safety performance. He was talking about indicators to measure the safety of plant operations. This differs from personal safety indicators such as illness and injury rates.

During my recent research for the Sept. 8 Oil & Gas Journal special report on refining safety, it became obvious that it’s still easier to obtain personal safety statistics than it is to obtain process safety statistics.

I would welcome any suggestions on where and how to obtain petroleum-related process safety statistics. This also prompts the question of whether process safety statistics might become more publicized in the future.

Meanwhile, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS) has established 12 essential features of a good process safety culture (Guidelines for Risk Based Process Safety, 2007). CCPS suggests that companies:

• Establish process safety as a core value.
• Provide strong leadership.
• Establish and enforce high standards of performance.
• Formalize the safety culture approach.
• Maintain a sense of vulnerability.
• Empower individuals to successfully fulfill their safety responsibilities.
• Defer to expertise.
• Ensure open and effective communications.
• Establish an environment open to questions and learning.
• Foster mutual trust.
• Provide timely response to safety issues and concerns.
• Provide continuous monitoring of performance.

An emphasis upon these features allows a company to evaluate existing safety culture and determine how best to improve it, CCPS said.