Seven years ago, an undersea BP oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles from the Louisiana coastline. Methane gas from the well below the Deepwater Horizon rig expanded into the drilling riser where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform.
The Deepwater Horizon was a semi-submersible, mobile, floating rig that was only accessible by helicopter when disaster struck. Hostile and dangerous operating conditions means risk management is crucial in the Oil & Gas Industry.
The risk factor
Although rare, there is a risk of on-site explosions in the Oil & Gas Industry. The Deepwater Horizon disaster resulted in the deaths of 11 personnel and was considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, the US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.
There are many potential causes of such an explosion. A leak, the sudden release of gas under pressure or the introduction of an ignition source into a flammable environment, can all create a hazard. Whilst efforts are being made to reduce risk,it remains the most significant factor for the wellbeing of oil and gas personnel. Monitoring environments for the presence of flammable vapours is an important health and safety practice that needs to be supported by accurate measuring technology.
Connecting the dots
Connected technologies are helping to minimise threats in oil and gas environments, identifying potential hazards before they can cause bigger problems. Cloud technology and the availability of internet connectivity enables remote asset management, where cloud infrastructure can support the constant monitoring and storage of data in real time. Monitoring equipment installed on local assets can transmit information to centralised servers away from a site, reducing the number or workers having to maintain equipment on dangerous sites.
A lesson for the future
In an inherently hazardous environment, mitigation of risk is critical and could be the difference between a successfully managed oil rig and a large scale disaster. Future strategy for increasing the safety of oil and gas workers hinges on a number of elements, but specialised personnel training will go a long way in teaching risk prevention and sophisticated monitoring technology increases the likelihood of identifying a hazard early on. The increased automation of oil and gas rigs will eventually reduce the number of employees needed on site – enabling them to do their job remotely and away from risk.