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OTC Technology Review: ABS

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Oilfield Technology,

The Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), held each year in Houston, Texas, US, is one of the world's leading upstream oil and gas events. Before OTC 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oilfield Technology contacted a range of key players in the upstream industry and asked for their insight on the latest technologies that were due to be showcased at this year's OTC.

In this submission, Harish Patel and Sameer Kalghatgi, ABS, USA, explain how 'barrier management' is being used to reduce the risk of high consequence hazards and accidents offshore.

Ever since the beginning of the offshore oil and gas industry, safety management programmes and regulations have been developed to assess and manage safety risk.

Even with established regulatory safety requirements and corporate safety goals, ‘low likelihood – high consequence’ hazards and accidents, such as blowouts, fires, explosions and collisions still occur. Results from accident investigations clearly indicate a failure or weakening of barriers, a lack of understanding of barrier function and the absence of follow-up by organisations as lead causes.

To tackle the problem, the Norwegian regulator, the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) proposed a comprehensive safety regulation called ‘Barrier Management’ (BM). The stated purpose of BM is “to establish and maintain barriers so that the risk faced at any given time can be handled by preventing an undesirable incident from occurring or by limiting the consequences should such an incident occur. Barrier management includes the processes, systems, solutions and measures, which must be in place to ensure the necessary risk reduction through the implementation and follow-up of barriers”.

BM is the coordinated effort of establishing and maintaining barriers so that they can fulfil their functions throughout the lifetime of a facility. Ensuring barriers’ continued effectiveness to protect against major accident hazards identified in the risk analysis of the facility requires a systematic and robust process. The application of BM for an offshore asset strengthens a company’s risk management and potentially reduces the likelihood and impact of major accident hazards when applied from a lifecycle perspective, starting with the design phase.

A barrier function involves technical, operational or organisational barrier elements. The effective implementation of BM requires clear understanding of barrier elements, their performance criteria and performance-influencing factors. Risk assessments should include interactions between operational, organisational and technical barrier elements to understand the functionality of an individual barrier. There is also a need for defining performance requirements for the technical, operational and organisational barrier elements and improving barrier strategies.

Figure 1 shows relationships in barrier management. Safety goals are achieved by managing and maintaining safety barriers constantly.

Figure 1. Relationship between barrier function, barrier element, performance requirements and performance-influencing factors.

Figure 2 shows the overall process of BM through all design phases and the operations phase. The various safety studies and other studies serve as input to develop the BM system through its different phases. Safety goals are achieved by managing and maintaining safety barriers constantly.

Figure 2. Barrier management process from design to operations.

A BM system is effective, when it has access to required information in near-real time.

Offshore assets are becoming large, sophisticated and complex. The offshore environment, with high temperatures and pressures, is extremely challenging with large inventories including highly flammable or toxic materials. This brings unique challenges and a greater risk to the safety of personnel, the environment and assets. A commitment to implementing BM systems across all levels of the organisation can help in addressing the risks.

The goal of BM is to allow an asset owner to clearly understand each barrier and its status to help determine asset safety and health. This leads to better management of risk, major accident scenarios, and their impact. Effective and efficient BM requires proper performance monitoring and testing, as well as allocating resources to maintain barriers, identifying degraded barriers and taking corrective action in a timely manner. BM increases compliance with safety culture and improves the safety performance of offshore assets.

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