The oil and gas industry presents a number of highly hazardous environments that potentially keep safety risks hidden under the surface of operational control panels.
To ensure an operation remains secure, process safety management has been introduced to thoroughly assess and mitigate these potential hazards from the design phase through to the safety control system operation.
Process safety management is about preventing major accidents such as fires, explosions and major losses of containment in an industrial setting like oil and gas plants.
In 2005, a fuel depot outside the town of Hemel Hampstead, 40km northwest of London, had unleaded motor fuel pumped into a storage tank when the tank safeguards failed, leading to the disaster known as the Buncefield fuel depot fire.
None of the staff working at the depot realised its capacity had been reached and it overflowed, resulting in a rapid formation of a rich fuel and air vapour that caused an explosion and fire to break out.
The fire engulfed 20 large storage tanks, with emergency services declaring it as a major emergency that required 25 fire engines, 20 support vehicles and 180 firefighters on site to extinguish the blaze.
This incident led to the implementation of three key process safety questions that are relatable across all industries: what can go wrong? What protective layers are in place to prevent it? What information assures those protective layers are being effective?
The three questions underpin the process ABB uses to approach Safety Lifecycle Management in the oil and gas sector.
ABB Ability SafetyInsight software guides oil and gas companies through the hazards and risk assessments required by these first two questions, as well as applications to gather contextualised information to reliably monitor risk control effectiveness.
Not only do each of these elements have to function well, but they have to link to the other areas effectively and be consistent.
For example, risk control systems must be designed for specific hazards identified during the hazard identification stage and the auditing process must ensure that all safety functions perform as per design assumptions.
With a full lifecycle approach to safety, ABB extends its process safety from the risk assessment stage, to the design phase through to the control system safety implementations phase and into the operations phase.
Digital lead and product marketing manager Erica Barrett said it was through ABB’s software and hardware that the company supported its customers through the full process.
“Initially when a customer is trying to run through what hazards exist at its plant, what the protective layers that are needed to protect against those hazards and should any of those protective layers need additional safety function, ABB solve this through its risk assessment software to support intuitive and efficient workshops, evergreen recording and safety instrument function (SIF) design,” Barrett told Oil & Gas Today.
“If the operator then wants to make the hazardous event risk matrix dynamic, we pull in the live operating data that is captured from the control system and Computerised Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS). Then we are able to identify which barriers are currently degraded and their relationships to understand the accumulative operating risk.”
“The pull-through value lies in contextualising this basis of safety engineering data into the operations space.”
In the situation, when there is an unplanned or planned shutdown of a production site, Barrett said ABB’s software was able to record all of the expected causes and events, pinpoint them immediately and collate data.
“The data is captured and able to give an actionable insight to the operational team, making the safety performance validation easily visible,” Barrett said.
Due to ever-advancing technology, ABB is using industry standard protocols to extract information from agnostic operational systems, and developing software new releases and being responsive to customer requests for new features.
ABB is a digital leader in the oil and gas industry through heavy investment in how the company supports the sector’s management of operational safety risks.
The company’s focus areas include helping oil and gas organisations develop cyber security solutions, and support the next level of asset performance and sustainable energy management.
“Customers are driving towards a digital automation future and that’s where ABB is supporting their journey as well,” Barrett said.
“We are looking at all the different technologies customers are wanting from us and building on those.”
Barrett reinforced the Australian oil and gas sector’s emphasis on safety and security, which is also the priority for ABB in the development of its technology solutions.
“ABB’s approach is to digitalise what has been designed, collect near-real time data, and make accessible what is happening at the customer’s operations,” Barrett concluded.