Boosting safety with operations information management

SINCE the Texas City oil refinery disaster in March 2005, safety has become a major driver for the adoption of operations information management systems, according to Aveva principal consultant for operation solutions, Clive Wilby.
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Pierre Audoin Consultants has found lack of information sharing is the largest attributed cause of safety incidents, Wilby said.

The Journal of Petroleum Technology estimates that 60% of plant engineers will retire by 2010. This ongoing loss of experienced personnel through retirement adds to the importance of having a plant operating system that facilitates information management and safety, so that relatively inexperienced operators can also operate plants and fields safely and effectively.

“Operators need fast access to accurate information to enable them to operate their facilities safely and reliably,” Wilby said.

“Hazards require continual oversight and control.

“These are risks of technical integrity failure and loss of containment of hydrocarbons and other hazardous material at operating sites or pipelines. Failure to manage these risks could result in injury or loss of life, environmental damage and-or loss of production.”

“At Texas City there was a lack of information for decision-making,” Wilby said.

“This was caused by a combination of information silos, and missing and incorrect information.”

Fifteen people died in the explosion at the BP-operated Texas City refinery and another 170 were injured.

BP has set aside $US700 million to settle lawsuits brought by injured workers and the family of those killed in Texas City.

The company has budgeted $US1 billion for capital equipment replacement. The company also lost production, damaged its reputation, saw its share price fall and is facing higher insurance premiums.

Among the recommendations from the Baker Panel Report into the disaster was a call for an integrated and comprehensive process safety management system.

“BP should establish and implement an integrated and comprehensive process safety management system that systematically and continuously identifies, reduces and manages process safety risks at its US refineries,” the report stated.

The 2005 explosion happened when a distillation tower at the Texas City plant was overfilled, triggering the emergency release of flammable liquid into a blowdown drum.

The 1950s-era drum overflowed, sending a liquid geyser-like release into the atmosphere where it ignited, causing the worst US industrial accident in more than a decade.

Then in 2006, the company faced another US public relations disaster when a corroded pipeline at its Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska had to be shut down following oil spills from a corroded pipeline.

United Kingdom energy consultant Richard Pike told the Times that BP was not alone in having to cut output at a major field because of corroding pipelines.

Much of this corrosion occurred because information on the pipelines was out-of-date and-or was not being circulated properly.

Good information management systems for operations provide current and accurate information, Wilby said.

They also integrate disparate applications and sources, and are easy to use.

“Information management systems should make collaboration easy, both at local and global levels,” he said.

“They should be easy to search and enable quick retrieval of information in the necessary context. And they should make it easy for staff to access and navigate all available information based on the user’s role and the relevant context.”

These systems have to be able to support complex workflows and provide information to support operational business processes with notification and alerts, he said.

To fulfill all of these roles, they must also be able to maintain a match between the plant information and the actual physical plant at all times.