Sunday, May 2, 2010

ERM-BC-COOP: Drill, Baby, drill


As oil from the BP disaster (11 people were killed) continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico proves, risk management was absent from the beginning.

An aside. a Google search for "BP oil rig disaster" brought up many hits for the environmental impact but none were concerned about the 11 missing-presumed-dead. It required a more specific search to generate hits on missing personnel. Allow me to editorialize: We have out priorities wrong. Granted, there is great environmental and financial damage, but people died; the environment and finances can be recovered or restored, but those lives are lost forever. THAT's the real disaster.

According to an AP/Yahoo report headed "Document: BP didn't plan for major oil spill" (, "In its 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well, BP suggested it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals."

With that thinking, it obviously was not necessary to consider technological methods to avoid - or at least mitigate - the oil "spill" resulting from the collapsed drilling platform.

I'm not writing about computer technology, although that would be involved.

I'm writing about valve technology; some way to automatically close a valve "in the event of."

I worked for a while as a tech writer for Leslie Controls, a company that makes valves and valve systems - "process control systems" - for both commercial and military applications. It made valves of all sizes, from 1/4-inch openings to 16-inch openings, two-way and three-way, for fluids, superheated steam, and gas, valves that can withstand seawater and severe pressures, so although not a valve engineer, I know a little about valves and control systems.

There are "normally open" (NO) and "normally closed" (NC) valves.

Valves can be deigned and built so that when the power (electrical or otherwise) that keeps them open is removed the valves close automatically.

If such valves had been in place in the pipe leading to the oil were in place, the flow would have been stopped someplace between the source of the oil and the sea.

I am NOT an engineer - valves or otherwise - but I am certain there was some method that could have been employed to prevent, or at least limit to a minimal amount, oil "leaking" into the Gulf.

As a Florida resident, I hope this disaster will put a halt to any new, POTUS-promoted off-shore drilling - and in fact stop all off-shore drilling until safety measures are put into place.

As an American, I hope this disaster will cause us to more seriously look at ways to wean ourselves from oil and other non-renewable resources. We have been kidding ourselves since at least the mid-1970s that we were "going" to do something to reduce dependency on oil. (So far, we've mostly (a) ignored the promise we made to ourselves and (b) switched a little to other sources of non-renewable energy, e.g., natural gas and coal.)

What about on-land drilling? For the most part, drilling from land-based rigs has proven fairly safe for both people and the environment. That is NOT to say we are accident free. Likewise, there is a transportation issue - pipelines and tankers on land and water.

The immediate need is for oil and gas exploration companies - and I used to work for one of those, too - to involve risk management people, "off-the-wall thinkers" if you will, in the exploration methodologies and LISTEN to those people.

The drillers are symptomatic of business in general.

I was contracted with a company that monitored other companies' data centers. This company's profit center was its computer center. It relocated its facilities across town to a lovely new building. The profit center was on the bottom floor behind a huge glass window so visitors could see that they were buying. Support services were on the second and third floors.

An the problem was?? The problem was is that the building was in a flood plain.

The company played with business continuity during the relocation, but failed to involve a practitioner in the search for a new location.

I think maybe this practitioner's theme song should be Pete Seeger's "Where have all the flowers gone" which asks the question at the end of every stanza "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"

John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management practitioner
JohnGlennMBCI at gmail dot com


1 comment:

John Glenn MBCI said...

Posted by Murray Turoff on the International Association of Emergency Managers' list on May 10, 2010

What seems to be finally emerging is an understanding that the federal regulatory body responsible for the regulation of oil wells, once recommended as a fail save device a unit that is used on oil rigs in the European Union as a fail safe to cut off the flow based upon a separate signal and assuming the destruction of the platform.

However, the same companies forced to use the device in Europe and other areas were left to decide if they would install it and chose not to (three years after the recommendation was proposed) as a result of policies to let the industry regulate itself. The leadership at BP told the government that the platform would never fail. Also the now pulbic history of safety on these platfroms with a fire/explosion happening once a week on the 4000 rigs in the gulf and a death every month on the average would result in any sensilbe risk analysis showing the chance of something worse to be much higher. Think would the risk factor would be, if these incident rates for accidents and deaths were allowed for nuclear power plants.

There were articles on this in the New York Times over the past week and i am sure there are some other sources as well. Some of those same stories pointed out a number of investigation and exposures of the excessive rewards members of that regulatory body were accepting from industry

As long as we keep thinking critical industries like energy and food should be left to self regulation we will continue to face more of these "unexpected" disasters. To many of the regulatory decisions in past years seem to be made on political power decisions instead of being based on professional studies by those that understand the technologies involved. Safety of workers in the coal industry is another example we also recently had.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Information Systems, NJIT