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Drilling safety

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With operations often classified as high risk from a financial and physical standpoint, and costs often in excess of a quarter of a million dollars per day, capable personnel and a defined management structure are essential. Running a drilling operation in the oil and gas business requires unique knowledge, and the ability to adjust to new problems and challenges every day. It is definitely not like manufacturing widgets day in and day out.

Safety statistics

Personal safety and health has increasingly become more of a factor and focus in offshore operations over the years. Safety statistics show that the following statistics have improved significantly over the last 10 to 15 years:

  • Lost time incident/injury (LTIs)
  • Recordable incidents
  • Near-miss incidents
  • Medical treatments

Whereas the LTI rate (incidents per 200,000 hours) was commonly more than 10, it is now common to be less than 1 and often less than 0.5. Safety offshore is no longer given mere lip service. IADC publishes statistics monthly by participating members, and the MSS gives out coveted awards in the Gulf Coast each year. From both a humanitarian and a financial standpoint, all feel that making safety a priority is the right thing to do.

Health & safety offshore

All operators and drilling contractors have extensive safety programs, with the DuPont STOP (Safety Training Observation Program) program or some modification of it being the most common element. The STOP program emphasizes “observance” by everyone on the unit of the actions of each crewperson and the conditions of the surroundings. STOP cards can be written by anyone on board about anyone else, from the roustabout to the OIM, and then discussed during safety meetings

A Job Safety Analysis (JSA) is another significant program in which detailed procedures are written up for every major job and task, discussed before the job is performed, and then implemented during the job performance. The requirement to have the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as:

  • Hard hats
  • Gloves
  • Safety glasses with side shields
  • Proper shirts and pants
  • Protective gloves

The following drills also contribute to improving safety in the workplace:

  • Man overboard
  • Firefighting
  • Helicopter landing and takeoff
  • Lifeboat use
  • First aid
  • Entry into non-ventilated tanks, etc.

Off and on the rig, training schools teach the following specialties, resulting in an enlightened operation and better safety and performance:

  • Crane operation
  • Well control
  • Firefighting
  • Helicopter crash survival
  • Team building
  • Leadership, etc.

Before a crewman can be hired to go offshore, an extensive physical (including drug screening) is usually given. For newcomers, there are roustabout and roughneck schools, such as those given on the Mr. Charlie (now a museum and training platform in Morgan City, Louisiana). The following are strictly prohibited offshore and, if discovered, usually mean instant dismissal and transport to shore for the offender:

  • Intoxicating beverages
  • Firearms
  • Weapons
  • Illegal drugs

Almost every rig has a paramedic as part of the crew, with access to doctors and medical help instantly through satellite and/or other communication medium. Tens of millions of dollars and an extensive amount of time and effort continue to be spent by all trying to run a safe operation offshore, and statistics show that the industry has shown considerable improvement.

Environmental considerations

Environmental and antipollution policies and efforts have increased steadily over the last 30 to 35 years. The U.S. federal and state governments have extremely strict laws and procedures for before, during, and after leases are put up for sale, drilled, produced, and abandoned. The fear of pollution, or the potential for a spill, is so great that some areas, such as the east and west coasts of the U.S.A., have seen no drilling for years. Most of Florida is off limits, even though limited drilling has shown potential for gas.

Through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), every rig has an international oil pollution plan that details the procedure to follow in the event of a spill (even a very small one). In the United States, even a very small fuel oil spill must be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard immediately.

  • Fines of U.S. $10,000 or more can be imposed for each incident
  • Discharge of any toxic or potentially polluting fluid or solids overboard is strictly prohibited
  • Solid food waste must be ground into mulch before discharge
  • Sewage waste must be treated before discharge overboard
  • Drill cuttings in some areas cannot be discharged overboard and must be transported to shore for disposal and/or injected into an approved reservoir offshore, usually down a casing annulus
  • Some areas offshore in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) do not allow mooring of vessels or discharge of cuttings because of sensitive coral reefs (possibly thousands of feet underwater), tubeworms, and other protected entities

The most feared environmental event from a MODU is a blowout of crude oil. Well-control equipment capabilities, procedures, and training have improved steadily over the years to a level where a blowout of any significance is extremely rare. The industry spends billions of dollars on antipollution and environmental safeguards every year, in an effort to comply with laws and the public’s desire for pollution-free operations.

HSE&S has become as important in offshore operations as drilling the well. Drilling contractors are taken off operator bid lists if they do not have and do not demonstrate a sound, statistically proven system for human, equipment, well, pollution, security, and operational well-being.


See also

MODU selection

Offshore rig crews

Offshore drilling agreements


Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

J.R. Valeur and M. Clowers 2006. Structure and Functioning of the ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 Certified HSE Management System of the Offshore Installation South Arne, SPE International Health, Safety & Environment Conference, 2-4 April. 98423-MS.

Ramesh C. Gourh and A.B. Chakraborty 2002. Joint Safety Venture for HSE Management on Offshore Oil / Gas Installations, SPE International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, 20-22 March. 73833-MS.

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