How Safety Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

How Safety Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

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Description: Safety is now front and center in the oil and gas industry. Thanks to a strong industrial culture of workplace safety and more advanced technologies to monitor and prevent injuries and accidents, the rate of injury was down to 1.8 per 100 workers in 2012, according to the American Petroleum Institute. And offshore, that rate dipped to 0.7 per 100 workers.

Yet there’s still progress to be made. Small oversights can quickly spiral out of control and spark major—sometimes fatal—accidents. The Piper Alpha disaster that took 167 lives in 1988 was traced to inadequate maintenance and risk assessment, according to NASA’s Safety Center.

And an accident’s impact can ripple beyond on-site workers, harming emergency crews and jeopardizing companies’ reputations and financial health.

 
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Contents:
How Safety
Has Evolved in the
Oil and Gas Industry

Contents
Perpetual Progress.......... 2
1800s: Accidents Abound.......... 3
Earlty 1900s: A Burgeoning Sense of Safety..........
4

Safety Spotlight: Moore Refinery Co.
1940s and 1950s: Technology Surges Offshore..........
5

Safety Spotlight: Thunder Bay
1969s and 1970s: Speed at the Sake of Safety..........
6
1988: Piper Alpha.......... 7

A Timeline of Safety Slips
2000s: Bigger Bolder Designs..........
8
Today: Pushing New Boundries – Safely
9

Safety, at Your Service

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

01

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s 1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

Perpetual Progress
Safety is now front and center in the oil and gas industry. Thanks to a strong industrial culture
of workplace safety and more advanced technologies to monitor and prevent injuries and
accidents, the rate of injury was down to 1.8 per 100 workers in 2012, according to the
American Petroleum Institute. And offshore, that rate dipped to 0.7
per 100 workers.
Yet there’s still progress to be made. Small oversights can quickly spiral out of control and
spark major—sometimes fatal—accidents. The Piper Alpha disaster that took 167 lives in
1988 was traced to inadequate maintenance and risk assessment, according to NASA’s Safety
Center. And an accident’s impact can ripple beyond on-site workers, harming emergency
crews and jeopardizing companies’ reputations and financial health.
Here, a look at the progress the industry has made and the challenges it
faces to move safely forward.

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

02

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

1800s: Accidents Abound
Worker injuries and fatalities weren’t tracked in the United States before the 1880s, which
speaks to the overall cultural indifference to industrial safety.
Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry was no different. Digging oil wells often happened
by hand or by chiseling a hole with cable tools, according to the American Oil and Gas
Historical Society.
Oil was typically stored in steel or wood tanks, which were inadequate to contain vapors
as the oil evaporated. Improper storage was a major risk on two fronts: The air pollution
caused by the vapors could have contributed to workers’ lung problems and even cancer,
according to global health group Hesperian. And the flammable fumes easily triggered
fires and explosions, leading to numerous injuries. In 1890, for instance, lit lamps ignited
fumes from an oil tank at a refinery in Chicago, killing 20 dockworkers, according to
parliamentary papers from 1894.

03

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

Safety Spotlight:

Early 1900s: A Burgeoning Sense of Safety

Moore Refining Co.

The turn of the century saw a huge leap forward in early industry technologies. Rotary
rigs began to replace simple axes and shovels, exponentially speeding the pace of oil
exploration. The oil boom led refinery chemists to experiment with new equipment and
processes to discover more efficient refining methods and easier ways to make
oil into gasoline.

One advanced technology that emerged during this
period was thermocracking, in which pressurized
stills and high temperatures converted gas oil into
lucrative gasoline. The new process required tanks,
stills, furnaces, piping and valves that could all
handle this stress.

While there was an emerging understanding of the importance of industrial safety, most
early measures were designed to protect property—not people, according to historians at
Eastern Illinois University. Refineries, for instance, were built with steel plates to prevent
leaks and asbestos roofing to withstand direct heat. Products such as Brown Barrels
set themselves apart by marketing their “durability, service and safety” as major selling
points, according to a 1922 edition of the National Petroleum News.

If the equipment failed, the results could be fatal,
according to the Kansas Department of Health and
Environment. When the Dubbs cracking units at
the Moore Refining Co. in Arkansas City, Kansas
exploded, they sparked a fire that destroyed the
entire refinery.

These shifts point to a nascent sense of safety importance. But worker safety remained an
afterthought. New experimental processes for refining oil, for example, could be
deadly for workers.

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

04

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

Today

Safety Spotlight:

Thunder Bay

1940s and 1950s: Technology Surges Offshore

One month after the Outer Continental Shelf Lands

The early days of offshore drilling can be traced back to 1896, when the Summerland
oilfields constructed a 300-foot pier into the Pacific and mounted a standard cable-tool rig
on it. That rig’s success was so notable that over the next five years, 14 more piers and 400
more wells were constructed.

Act was signed, “Thunder Bay” hit movie theaters.
This 1953 Jimmy Stewart film brought offshore
drilling—and its safety needs—to the popular
forefront. Set in 1946, the movie follows ex-Navy
engineer Steve Martin’s efforts to build a safe
platform for offshore oil drilling off the coast of
Louisiana.

By the 1940s technology was taking wells far into the Gulf of Mexico. Yet though 50 years
of offshore drilling had passed, the industry had yet to build safety equipment or protocols
specifically geared to this unique environment, according to the American Oil and Gas
Historical Society. Offshore exploration remained an incredibly risky endeavor, with
companies risking their investments and workers risking their lives.
Yet the risky environment didn’t slow demand in offshore operations. In 1953, President
Eisenhower signed the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which placed all offshore lands
beyond the three-mile limit under federal jurisdiction. It also authorized the Department of
the Interior to issue leases to oil companies, driving the surging demand even further.

05

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

Today

1960s and 1970s: Speed at the Sake of Safety
The desire to get offshore oilrigs up and running as quickly as possible sometimes put
safety on the back burner, according to the bipartisan National Commission on the BP
Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
Drilling vessels were contracted on day rates, which increased financial pressure to work
quickly. And production processes were highly interdependent, so a delay in one section
could cause delays elsewhere. Aside from time-cost pressures, rig design didn’t always
properly account for worker safety. Platforms were often built with equipment squeezed
together in an unsafe manner, such as when crew quarters were built dangerously close to
compressor buildings.
Safety requirements signed by the U.S. Geological Survey Conservation Division in 1958
and 1960 mandated that oil companies install subsurface safety devices. But the orders
didn’t include testing requirements and didn’t specify design criteria or technical standards.
Accident rates for mobile drilling vessels remained high, and diving accidents and routine
platform injuries were common.

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

06

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

1988: Piper Alpha
Piper Alpha is considered one of the worst offshore oil disasters in history. The oil
platform accounted for roughly 10 percent of the North Sea’s oil and gas production.
On July 6, 1988, an explosion and subsequent fires killed 167 workers, according to
NASA’s Safety Center. https://youtu.be/R6X4PjobTT0

A Timeline of Safety Slips




Routine maintenance to a pressure safety valve was left unfinished, and Pump



A’s status was not communicated.



A blockage in Pump B caused the crew to restart Pump A, unaware of its condition.





Without a working safety valve, the pump leaked gas, causing an explosion.



The control room was destroyed, and there were no safety protocols in place to





address this. Communication broke down, as the crew awaited evacuation orders



or further instructions.



Wind, fire and smoke prevented a helicopter evacuation. Subsequent fires spread





07

across the platform, and the death toll surged.

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

1800s

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

2000s: Bigger, Bolder Designs
Oil and gas companies are pushing the limits of design in order to maximize
production. That means deeper wells, taller offshore rigs. Scaling existing types of
structures doesn’t just mean scaling technologies—it often requires the creation
and deployment of new technologies. That requires sharp, meticulous attention to
industrial safety.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the Petronius platform, operated by Chevron Corp. and Marathon
Oil, stands 2,000 feet above the ocean floor. Petronius is the largest free-standing
structure in the world, according to industry firm Offshore Technology. And it’s a great
example of how scaling to new heights required a fundamental rethink of standard
design. Unlike conventional platforms that are designed to resist winds and waves,
Petronius is designed to flex with these natural forces.

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

08

1800s

Safety, at Your Service

1900s

1940s / 1950s

1960s / 1970s

1988

2000s

TODAY

Today: Pushing New Boundaries—Safely

Total Safety is the unmatched global leader in
providing integrated compliance solutions to ensure
the safety of workers. In fact, it is our mission to
ensure the safe Wellbeing of Workers Worldwide.
Last year, its team of experts completed more than

Conventional exploration alone is unlikely to satisfy predicted worldwide demand.
Roughly 64 million barrels per day of new oil capacity would have to come on stream
between 2007 and 2030 to meet anticipated demand, according to the International
Energy Agency.

200 turnarounds and provided daily safety support to
people on more than 290 onshore and offshore rigs.

That means even as organizations are maximizing conventional methods, the industry
is rapidly investing in new technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing. These emerging
technologies will require comprehensive analysis with proven safety leaders to ensure
rigorous risk management and safety protocols are in place.

…to Ensure the Safe
Wellbeing of Workers Worldwide (W 3)SM

09

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

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http://www.iea.org/aboutus/faqs/oil/

Publications/Workplace-Safety-2003-2012.pdf

https://osha.europa.eu/en/teaser/Files/maintenance_campaign_guide_

http://nsc.nasa.gov/SFCS/SystemFailureCaseStudy/Details/112

en.pdf

http://www.watersmart.com/kansas_refining_history.pdf

http://www.independent.com/news/2011/apr/07/summerland-seep-

http://en.hesperian.org/hhg/A_Community_Guide_to_Environmental_

age-mystery/

Health:Oil_Refineries

http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/news/1758242

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http://education.afpm.org/refining/refining-process/

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ing+Co&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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dents+at+oil+refineries+1890&source=gbs_navlinks_s

and-hats

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http://primis.phmsa.dot.gov/comm/EarlyDays.htm

http://www.eoearth.org/files/154601_154700/154673/historyofdrillingstaffpaper22.pdf

How Safety has Evolved in the Oil and Gas Industry

10