Monday, June 07, 2010

deepwater behavior

(I really haven't said what I want to fully say with this post, but I believe my message is still here.)

This is where I am going to come back to Occidental (Oxy) which I mentioned in my last post. As Anonymous commenter noted, they were the operator of the Piper Alpha, which was destroyed in an explosion and fire that claimed 167 lives in 1988 and is still the deadliest offshore oilfield accident to ever occur. You will generally not work in the industry for very long before you see some video or presentation related to the Piper Alpha and what it has meant to the safety culture of the industry.

Oxy still operates today. In fact, they have been quite successful and as I discussed the concept of super-majors yesterday, Oxy is now approaching the size of ConocoPhillips in terms of market capitalization. In terms of surviving, they have done a remarkable job of making it through the proverbial storm. I am not at all surprised that the company pulled through in part because of their key difference from BP that we discussed yesterday. They are not an integrated oil company and instead only operate in the upstream portion of the sector. There was certainly public outcry over the lives lost on Piper Alpha and there was some executive house-cleaning, but as a corporate entity, Oxy had far less to manage on the public front than BP does today. The changing media landscape has also meant increased scrutiny today that existed 22 years ago. Furthermore, as horrible as Piper Alpha was, it was a single event, with the platform going down in hours and not something that the general public had a chance to witness slowly unfold. All these factors worked to Oxy’s advantage while they are absolutely crushing BP right now.

One of the many things about the industry that is different today than in the Piper Alpha days is the approach to HSE (health, safety, and environment). The changes didn’t necessarily come quickly, but the approach today is significantly more proactive and process oriented. Basic safety is things like guard rails and warning signs. Another step up is process improvements. Beyond that is reporting of risks from employees. With each change, there is more structure and expectation for both management and employees in approaching safety. However, there is still a great safety gulf to close.

I am of the opinion that in terms of process, procedure, training, etc we have made significant progress in terms of safety in its current form. The last great gulf is the one that seems to be part of the failures that led to the loss of Deepwater Horizon. That gulf is behavioral. Process alone cannot change the way people think, act, and do. Process and procedure did not fail Deepwater Horizon. From what I have read, there is at least one, but probably more, instance where a decision was made that was directly contrary to the procedures that should have been followed. The system did not fail per se. People failed. This is a basic behavioral failure. For whatever reason or motivation, someone (or several someones) made a decision that on some level they almost certainly knew was wrong, but they did it anyway. While the stakes have clearly been shown to be incredibly high, this is something that almost everyone does at some point or another.

We make decisions that we know to be wrong. This is our human condition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Undersea Oil Plumes

Does this occur anywhere else in the deepwater wells?