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Responding to Safety & Environmental Incidents: Practical Lessons Learned from the BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster . Mark D. Hansen, CSP, PE, CPEA, CPE Vice-President, Environmental & Safety Range Resources Corporation Ft. Worth, TX September 16, 2010. About the Rig.

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Responding to Safety & Environmental Incidents: Practical Lessons Learned from the BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster

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Responding to Safety & Environmental Incidents: Practical Lessons Learned from the BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster

Mark D. Hansen, CSP, PE, CPEA, CPE

Vice-President, Environmental & Safety

Range Resources Corporation

Ft. Worth, TX

September 16, 2010

About the Rig

The rig belonged to Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore drilling contractor

The rig was originally contracted through the year 2013 to BP and was working on BP’s Macondo exploration well when the fire broke out

The rig costs about $500,000 per day to contract

The full drilling spread, with helicopters and support vessels and other services, cost closer to $1,000,000 per day to operate in the course of drilling for oil and gas

The rig cost about $350,000,000 to build in 2001 and would cost at least double that to replace today

What Happened?

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which caught fire, burned for two days, then sank in 5,000 ft of water in the Gulf of Mexico

There were 11 men were killed and 17 injured

The event continued for 87 days and released an estimated 5 million bbls of oil in the Gulf of Mexico

A Closer Look at bp Choices

Note: I am not a Petroleum Engineer nor do I profess to be.

Casing locked with a single injection of cement

Liners with one (two) cement jobs are less prone to failure

Blowout preventer failed

Warning Signs

First rig, Marianas (Transocean) drilled to 4,023 feet before being damaged by Hurricane Ida … Enter Macondo (Transocean) in February

The formation is geologically young and fragile (sand, shale and salt)

The use of mud – transport cuttings out of the hole – a liquid plug

Run the risk of fracturing the hole or losing mud to a weak formation

There were several occasions where mud was lost in weak formation

8 Key findings

The annulus cement barrier did not isolate the hydrocarbons

The shoe track barriers did not isolate the hydrocarbons

The negative-pressure test was accepted although well integrity had not been established

Influx was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser

Well control response actions failed to regain control of the well

Diversion to the mud gas separator resulted in gas venting onto the rig

The fire and gas system did not prevent hydrocarbon ignition

The BOP emergency mode did not seal the well

Barriers Breached and the Relationship to Critical Factors

The annulus cement barrier did not isolate the hydrocarbons

  • Evaluating lift pressure and lost returns did not constitute a ”proven cement evaluation technique“

  • A formal risk assessment might have enabled them to identify further mitigation options

  • Improved engineering rigor, and communication of risk could have identified the low probability of the cement achieving zonal isolation

  • Improved technical assurance, risk management and management of change by the rig personnel could have raised awareness

The shoe track barriers did not isolate the hydrocarbons

  • Contamination of the shoe track cement by nitrogen breakout from the nitrified foam cement

  • Contamination of the shoe track cement by the mud in the wellbore

  • Inadequate design of the shoe track cement

  • Swapping of the shoe track cement with the mud in the rat hole (bottom of the hole)

  • A combination of these factors

The negative-pressure test was accepted although well integrity had not been established

  • Incorrect assessment that well integrity had been achieved

  • Negative pressure test did not have detailed steps and did not specify failure criteria

  • Test results were determined by competence of field personnel

Influx was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser

  • The rig crew either did not observe or recognize pre-blowout conditions

  • Tansocean’s Well Control Handbook did not specify how to monitor the well during these events

Well control response actions failed to regain control of the well

  • No apparent well control actions were taken until hydrocarbons were in the riser

  • The next actions that were taken did not control the well

  • An annular preventer was likely activated, and it closed around the drill pipe, but failed to seal for about five minutes, allowing further flow of hydrocarbons into the riser

  • The diversion of fluids overboard, rather than to the Mud Gas Separator, may have given the rig crew more time to respond and may have reduced the consequences of the accident

  • Transocean’s shut-in protocols were not adequate after well control has been lost

  • The rig crew was not sufficiently prepared to manage an escalating well control event

Diversion to the mud gas separator (MGS) resulted in gas venting onto the rig

  • The design of the MGS system allowed the riser fluids to be diverted to the MGS vessel when the well was in a high flow condition

  • Hydrocarbons were vented directly onto the rig through the 12 in. vent exiting the MGS, and other flow-lines directed gas back onto the rig

  • This created a flammable cloud that only needed an ignition source

Mud Gas Separator

The fire and gas system did not prevent hydrocarbon ignition

  • The two main electrically classified areas were within the rig floor and under the deck, where the mud returning from the well could convey some residual hydrocarbons

  • A flammable cloud migrated to these areas where ignition occurred

Fammable Dispersion Model

Where the Gas Vented

Where the Gas Vented

Classified Explosive Areas

Classified Explosive Areas

The BOP emergency mode did not seal the well

  • Emergency Disconnect System (EDS)

    • The explosions and fire damaged the multiplex cables, preventing the EDS from closing the Blind Shear Ram (BSR)

  • Automatic Mode Function (AMF)

    • A failed solenoid valve and an insufficient charge prevented the AMF from operating

  • BOP Maintenance / Testing

    • The Transocean maintenance management system failed

CultureHow could this happen?

BP’s safety program was focused on the safety issues on the rig itself

This incident was really about operations

Few SH&E professionals have an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of the blowout preventer and drilling on the sea floor and rarely interact with operations regarding these issues

This is where the gap occurred

More on Culture

How did BP get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?

  • Industry know the merits of BP’s safety and environmental program, but the public and media clearly do not

  • Paradoxically, BP is known for it’s strict requirements on both its employees as well as it’s contractors. BP works extremely hard to develop and sustain a safety culture unparalleled in industry

  • BP’s safety requirements are so strict, many companies choose not to do business with them because their safety programs don’t “measure up”

  • This is so prevalent, even some “employees” leave BP for the same reason

  • So, how did they get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?

How did BP get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?

  • First, pure and simple … They were put under the microscope …

    • In events like this … catastrophe = Microscope

    • Every action no matter how small is dissected in great detail … and in this case … on national tv

  • Second, they are the operator ... An easy target. Even though:

    • Transocean was doing the drilling

    • Halliburton was providing services

    • BP, Halliburton, and Transocean all appeared at the Congressional Hearing … many of us witnessed the round robin …

  • … Yet BP was deemed responsible … any surprise?

How did BP get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?Public and Media Social Decisions

It was BP’s well regardless of any contractual vehicle in place – Logic did not play a role

It was difficult to spread the blame to three entities or more (conspiracy theory) – One is much easier

Just like lawsuits today there is a propensity to find one entity with which to lay the blame

On the other hand, it was easy for the public and the media to label BP as the owner and the “bad guy”

Even the Minerals Management Service suffered some “blame” but the skating virtually unscathed

On top of all this, in the media, “feelings” trumped any “facts” that would counter the truth

Ever Heard of Cognitive Bias?

It is a general term that is used to describe many distortions in the human mind that are difficult to eliminate and that lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation

Once the spill occurred, cognitive bias kicked in.

Other Supporting Biases

Bandwagon effect– the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same

Confirmation bias– the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions

Negativity bias – the tendency to pay more attention and give more weight to negative than positive experiences or other kinds of information

Semmelweis reflex – the tendency to reject new evidence that contradicts an established paradigm

How did BP get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?

No matter what “good” BP could do, they ONLY “good” they could do it get out of this was stopping the leak

This puts a fine point on how difficult it is to manage public perception, media, government in addition to “remote” operations and contractors

Responding to a Crisis

Crisis Communication

Today’s Complicator in Crisis Communication


  • The proliferation of instantaneous and constant media communications in the digital age has increased public awareness of risks and crises as well as the publicity surrounding them


My Space



Media Websites


Crisis Communication

The formal study and practice of crisis communications has been identified for less than 25 years

Its use by EH&S professionals is even newer

Our role is often to advise management on how to speak to the public about risks and crises under our responsibilities

Crisis Communication

A variation of risk communication that occurs when something has recently happened that endangers people or that threatens to endanger them in the not too distant future. People are fearful, angry or miserable

Peter M. Sandman

Risk Perception Model

15 different factors

Affect how risk is perceived by stakeholder

Each has the capacity to alter perceptions in varying degrees of magnitude.

Perception determines level of concern which changes attitudes and behavior

(Vincent Covello – Center for Risk Communication)

15 Risk Perception Factors

  • Voluntariness

  • Controllability

  • Familiarity

  • Equity

  • Benefits

  • Understanding

  • Uncertainty

  • Dread

  • Reversibility

  • Trust in institutions

  • Personal Stake

  • Ethical/Moral Nature

  • Human vs. Natural Origin

  • Victim Identity

  • Catastrophic Potential

Mental Noise Model (Covello)

Evaluates how information is processed under stress

Changes in the way information is processed should affect communications

Strong feelings arouse mental agitation which creates mental noise

Can interfere with ability to be rational

Trust Determination Model(Covello)

First establish trust between the sender and the receiver

Emphasizes two-way communication process

Difficult to achieve objectives without it

If trust is already in place, communication barriers are more easily overcome


Risk = Hazard + Outrage

High Hazard/High Outrage (CrisisCommunications)

Emotion from audience is more likely fear

Skilled messenger or audience may become depressed or apathetic

Acknowledge reasonable fears and give constructive action ideas “We’re in this together

Audience AnalysisFactors Influencing Public Perception

How well the risk is understood – technical information

How equitable the risk is distributed among populations – statistical information

What level of control exists - Covello’s Risk Perception Model

Audience AnalysisFactors Influencing Public Perception

  • Whether the risk is assumed voluntarily and/or without approval

  • How easily they can they recall a related event of a specific risk (stroke vs. shark attack)

    • Significant influence of media

  • How closely they were affected by an event

Tailor the Message to the Audience

If the Audience is…

Tailor the message…

  • Unaware

  • Apathetic

  • Well informed

  • Hostile

  • Lots of graphics and color

  • Find means to get stakeholders involved, offer choices

  • Build on past information

  • Acknowledge concerns, find common ground, get stakeholders involved

Crafting the Message

Provide knowledge needed for informed decision-making

Build (rebuild) trust - Transparent

Engage stakeholders in dialogue

Minimize conflict among messengers and messages

Good planning on message content

Good skill and practice delivering messages

Center for Risk Communication

Crafting the MessageCrisis Communication Messages

Don’t over-reassure

Err on the alarming side

Be willing to speculate

Don’t aim for zero fear

Acknowledge uncertainty

Tell people what to expect

Offer people things to do

Let people choose their own actions

Peter Sandman

Crafting the Message

Be willing to identify the worst case scenario and talk about it

Change the message from “We are ready – we will protect you.” to “We are doing our best, but you need to do some work too”

The question isn’t “How safe is safe enough?”, but “How ready is ready enough?”

When the Message Doesn’t Work Pitfalls

  • Using abstractions

    • Don’t assume a common understanding

  • Don’t attack

    • Respond to issues, not people

    • End debates, don’t further them

  • Sending negative non-verbal messages

    • Don’t lose your temper

    • Adopt a relaxed physical stance

  • Who’s fault is it?

    • Accept blame where appropriate

    • Don’t shift it to others

  • Don‘t focus on money

    • What are the benefits for the money being spent?

    • Don’t complain about lack of funds

  • Avoid guarantees

    • Offer likelihoods and emphasize progress

  • Avoid jargon

    • It’s OK to educate.

7 Cardinal Rules of Crisis Communication

Source: Covello & Allen (1998)

  • Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner

    Create an informed public, avoid simply pacifying their concerns

  • Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts

    Audience analysis is key here

  • Listen to the public’s specific concerns

    Credibility, empathy and concern can sometimes be as important as risk levels, statistics and details

  • Be honest, frank and open

    Trust and credibility take time to develop but are quickly lost and hard to regain

7 Cardinal Rules of Crisis Communication

Source: Covello & Allen (1998)

  • Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources

    Conflicts between organizations makes things more difficult

  • Meet the needs of the media

    The media are usually more interested in politics than in risk, in simplicity than in complexity, and in danger than in safety

7 Cardinal Rules of Crisis Communication

Source: Covello & Allen (1998)

  • Speak clearly and with compassion

    Never let efforts prevent acknowledgement of the tragedy

    People can understand risk information, but they may still not agree

    Some people will not be satisfied

When the Message Doesn’t Work Pitfalls

  • Don’t go on and on …

    • Aim for 15 minutes or less

    • Save plenty of time for questions

  • Avoid negative allegations

    • Refute where you can

    • Don’t repeat and give credibility

  • Avoid negative words and phrases

    • Stay positive or neutral

  • You’re never “off the record”

    • Nothing is confidential

  • It’s not about you

    • Always “we”, never “I”

  • Promises are hard to keep

    • Make sure it can be delivered

    • Never promise for another group or organization

  • Accompany your words

    • Visuals and hand-outs help enhance the message

  • Just the facts

    • Speculation is a huge trap

  • Statistics

    • They’re not the focus

    • Use to enhance your remarks

When the Message Doesn’t Work

  • Understand your messages and reasons for communicating

  • Determine your goals before you speak:

    • Remember Risk = Hazard + Outrage

    • How are you trying to adjust the equation?

    • Perception is reality in a crisis

  • Remember the role of the public

    • They are your partner

Don’t forget the media

They won’t forget you!

They are neither enemy nor friend - you owe each other nothing but courtesy and respect

Think of yourself as a guest during an interview

Listen to the question and think before you answer

Dealing with the MediaTypical Questions

The "What if...?" question

The "yes or no" question

The "number one priority" question

The "off the record" question

The "either/or" question

The "multiple choice" question

The "statement" question

The "second guess" question

The "policy statement" question

The Official StatementWhat the Public Needs to Know

  • Your name and the reason you are here

  • What, exactly, has happened?

  • Is anyone hurt?

  • What is your major concern right now? (In every case, your major concern is for safety and the environment.)

  • Is there any danger right now to employees or the public?

  • What steps are you taking to bring the situation under control?

  • Has there been a spill or release of material to the environment?

  • Has there been any evacuation or disruption of services to the community?

  • Who else can the media turn to for information?

Questions During the Interview

  • Exactly what caused the accident?

  • Whose fault was this?

  • What is the dollar estimate of damage?

  • What if? (In any form)

  • Or any other question about the past, the future, or about company policy

How to End the Interview

During the emergency, remember at all times that you are in charge. That includes the responsibility for determining where and when to hold interviews, and when to end them.

Be polite but firm, and give a reason why you must leave. Example:

"That's really all the information I have right now. Someone from the main office is on the way here, but in the meantime my crew is waiting for me and we've got an awful lot of work to do. So if you'll excuse me, I have to go."

Then leave.

During the Interview

Do not repeat hearsay, even if the information comes from a newscast or some other reputable source

Assume that everything you say and do is being recorded

Avoid answering hypothetical questions

If a question is outside your area of responsibility or expertise, say so, and steer the reporter to someone better able to provide an answer

Avoid giving personal opinions about anything

Do not drink, smoke, or chew anything during the interview

During the Interview

Avoid making jokes or clever remarks during an interview

Focus your remarks on the present

If you don't know the answer to a question, say so

Never discuss the exact cause of an accident, even if you think you know the cause

Avoid discussing who may have been at fault in an accident

Avoid colorful descriptions such as "huge explosion" or "massive gas cloud." Also avoid emotionally charged words such as "disaster" or "catastrophe

Do not give out names or conditions of victims

After the Interview

Keep a record of the names and affiliations of the reporters who interview you

 Keep in close touch with your company headquarters and keep your supervisor briefed on who contacted you and why

 If possible, arrange to videotape television newscasts and clip newspaper stories about the incident

 If a story contains factual errors, you or someone else in your company should contact the appropriate station or newspaper to provide the correct information

Do not complain about the “tone” or “slant” of a story and never ask for a retractions

Dealing with Third Parties

Governmental Agencies



Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

How did BP get labeled as the “Bad Guy”?

… Oh, and by the way …

… This could happen to you …

A little more about BP’s safety program

  • Their written program is comprehensive. It’s:

    • Management system-driven

      • Written, formalized, comprehensive

    • Trained

    • Includes contractors

  • Would your program stand up to such external scrutiny?

  • Would YOU be able to handle the scrutiny BP’s VP, of HSSE took from Al Franken, etal? (checkout the youtube account among other videos

Lessons LearnedHow Not to Respond

  • Get a third party media company

    • Listen to them … (e.g., BP’s CEO) – No one wanted to be told how to do it right from someone from the UK – An American would have brought trust

    • We all think we can talk to the media well … nay, nay

  • Use a third party well control responder

    • Listen to them …

    • We all think we know best … nay, nay

    • They do this almost EVERY day, we do it once in a blue moon

  • Drills and exercises

    • Gear them to real-world events and timing

    • It is like conducting a drill when things aren’t perfect and steady-state, do it when you AREN’T ready

  • This will exercise the system for a real life event

Your Crisis Management ProgramReview your crisis management plan

  • Do you have one? Is it written?

  • Does it work? Have you conducted drills and exercises?

  • What you should be looking for in light of the lessons learned so far from the BP disaster?

  • Is it just a piece of paper collecting dust?

  • Are you learning from other industry incidents?

  • Are you taking actions to address these lessons learned?

  • Do the participants know their roles?

  • Do the participants have experience in their roles?

  • Do they know how to fulfill their roles?

  • Are they comfortable fulfilling their roles?

  • Have you matched the right people to their roles?

Senior Management Team




VP International Exploration







Crisis Management Team

Crisis Management Support Team






Incident Commander


Senior Management Team

Crisis Manager

Regional VPs

Incident Management Team





Logistics Lead

Business Lead

Comm Lead



Purchasing Support

Government Liaison (Non-Regulatory)

Technical/ Engineering Support

EHS Support

Legal Support

Insurance Support



Media Spokesperson

Regulatory Liaison

Accounting Support


IT Support

HR Support

Public Information Support

O&G Marketing

Your Emergency Response ProgramReview your emergency response plan

  • What you should be looking for in light of the lessons learned so far from the BP disaster?

  • Is it just a piece of paper collecting dust?

  • Are you learning from other industry incidents?

  • Are you taking actions to address these lessons learned?

  • Do the participants know their roles?

  • Do they know how to fulfill their roles?

  • Are they comfortable fulfilling their roles?

  • Have you matched the right people to their roles?

  • Ask your drilling engineers a few open-ended questions

  • Have you conducted exercises with third parties

Your Emergency Response Program

  • Well control and special equipment

  • Finding the rig … quickly

  • Local first responders

  • Municipalities

  • Residential communities

  • Media

  • Governmental Agencies

  • Regulatory agencies

  • Political entities

  • Hospitals

  • Spill response

  • Crisis Management

  • Incident Command

  • Roles

  • Back-up personnel

  • Back-ups to the back-ups, etc.

Minimize Your Exposure

  • Engage a third party public relations company

    • As a coach

    • To help you craft your message

    • To help respond to the media

  • Practice with exercises

Your Plan

Incident Command

Regional Crisis Management

Regional Emergency Response

Corporate Crisis Management

Media – local, state and national

Political - local, state and national

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

The Public

State emergency responders

Putting this in Perspective

Nearly 85% of the 29 million gallons of petroleum that enter North American ocean waters each year as a result of human activities comes from land-based runoff, polluted rivers, airplanes, and small boats and jet skis, while less than 8 percent comes from tanker or pipeline spills.

Average annual contribution to oil in the ocean (1990-1999) from major sources of petroleum in kilotonnes. From Oil in the Sea, Ocean Studies Board and Marine Board of the National Academy of Sciences (2003).

Major Sources of Petroleum PollutionIn Order of Importance

Natural seeps from rocks below the sea floor

Consumption, which includes runoff from land and oil from cars, marine boating and jet skis in coastal waters

Transportation, which includes spills from tankers and pipelines as well as intentional discharge from ships at sea

Extraction, which includes spills from offshore platforms and blowouts during efforts to explore for and produce oil and gas

Oil Spills

  • Oil spills from oil tankers operating at sea world-wide account for only 7.7% of oil in the ocean

  • "The average number of large spills per year during the 1990s was about a third of that witnessed during the 1970s.

  • The 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can be placed into context of other major oil-well blowouts. Three large spills include (Schenkman, 2010):

  • "IXTOC 1. It was the biggest spill with a daily outflow of 30,000 barrels per day. The flow was stopped after eight months and 3.5 million barrels were released into the Gulf of Mexico about 80 km offshore of Yucatan, Mexico in 1979.

  • Ekofisk. It released 202,000 barrels of oil about 250 km off the coast on Norway in the North Sea in 1977.

  • Santa Barbara. This relatively small spill released 100,000 barrels of oil into the Santa Barbara Channel offshore of California in 1969.

Lessons Learned for Clean Ups

  • Set aside areas that have not been cleaned to compare with cleaned areas to assess usefulness of cleaning

  • High-pressure, hot-water cleaning causes short-term and long-term damage

  • Stating that cleanup does "more harm than good". We have learned that:

    • The use of detergents, (toxic to marine life) to disperse the oil

    • The use of steam to clean rocks, kills all organisms on the rocks

  • Any cleanup that changes the physical makeup of the area delays recovery. In particular, Large scale excavation of gravel beaches, which delays recovery for many years

  • Using water to flush away oil may remove fine sediment needed by organisms

The Financial TimesAmerican Petroleum Institute, August 31 2010

“We have been drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for about 65 years now, have drilled 42,000 wells and this is the first time we have had a tragic incident like this.” Mr. Gerard said. “We’re going to learn lessons from this unfortunate event, butI don’t think it fundamentally changes the energy industry.”

Mr. Gerard told the Financial Times that while the industry respected regulators, the oil and gas companies played a critical role in oversight of the industry.

“We recognise they are the regulators ... we are the regulated industry, but our expertise and understanding of producing energy is very important to their ability to regulate the industry and to work co-operatively as we produce the energy the country needs,” Mr. Gerard said.

The Financial TimesAmerican Petroleum Institute, August 31 2010

President Barack Obama has called for an end to the alleged “cosy” relationship between federal regulators.

“The relationship between the regulator and the regulated for the past number of years has been one designed to raise our performance, to improve our safety, to improve our environmental protection,” Mr. Gerard said. “We hope that relationship in the future will continue in an appropriate way, in a very robust way as we develop this much needed energy resource.”

The Financial TimesAmerican Petroleum Institute, August 31 2010

API is organising a series of “citizen rallies” beginning on September 1 in Texas as part of a broader effort to fight the Obama administration’s temporary moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling and industry-targeted tax proposals that have been proposed in Congress.

“We believe the public is on our side.  When you survey the public today, about two-thirds of the public opposes increased taxes on the oil and natural gas industry. Now is not the time to advance those proposals and we will aggressively oppose them,” he said.


If you don’t have a Crisis and/or Emergency Response plan … get one … now

If you have one … keep it updated

Know how to deal with the media, potential Governmental intervention, regulatory agencies, political figures

Conduct exercises in less than ideal conditions to fully exercise the plan

Plan for the worst and hope for the best

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