National Academies issue remote real-time offshore monitoring report

A new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report recommends ways the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement could apply remote real-time monitoring (RRTM) to improve the safety and reduce the environmental risks of offshore oil and gas operations.

The May 2 report, "Application of Remote Real-Time Monitoring to Offshore Oil and Gas Operations," was released by the academies’ Transportation Research Board as the 2016 Offshore Technology Conference opened in Houston.

The oil and gas industry is moving into greater depths offshore with deeper wells which can experience higher temperatures, higher pressures, and greater uncertainty, it noted. Remote monitoring of drilling operations could help operators and regulators make operations safety, the report suggested.

“Drillers have monitored drilling operations offshore in real time for decades; more recently, a few operators have transmitted some of these data onshore to improve efficiency and risk management,” it said. As it gathered information, the committee was told that RRTM’s benefits include increased efficiency, decreased downtime and operational disruptions, reduced equipment damage, and overall reduction or risk, it indicated.

“Whereas RRTM can provide the rig with technical support and access to onshore expertise, during the committee’s workshop the US industry expressed a belief that responsibility and authority for decision-making should remain offshore,” the report said. “Situational awareness on the offshore facility is important, and RRTM data do not always provide the necessary context.”

It said that RRTM’s use varies across the offshore industry, and diverse technologies are available. No RRTM industry standard or standard practice exists, and the industry exhibits various levels of maturity in its use of RRTM. Consequently, a standard approach is not likely to work or to be needed for every company and every well, according to the report.

“The committee views RRTM as [the best available and safest technology] when such technologies are consistent with [as low as reasonably practicable] principles,” it continued. BSEE’s director establishes BAST through a documented process, but determining RRTM as BAST in some contexts would not mandate its use across the board. The decision to use RRTM is made when such technologies are available and economically feasible, it said.

BSEE could use existing regulatory requirements, such as drilling permit applications and Safety and Environment Management Systems (SEMS), to advance RRTM’s appropriate uses, the report said. By encouraging offshore operators to address RRTM in those plans, the US Department of the Interior agency also could allow operators to determine circumstances under which RRTM should be used and challenge them to do so when BSEE believes that RRTM is necessary to manage risk.

“RRTM information—whether in real time or archived—could also benefit BSEE in its inspection activities, and support inspectors’ reviews of safety-related information before they visit offshore facilities,” the report said. “Preparation, prioritized by risk, could allow for more efficient scheduling and effective execution of BSEE inspections.”

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