Safety first

With cost pressures continuing to have a lasting effect on the energy, oil and gas markets, achieving the maximum value from the refining process remains crucial. This industry remains aware, however, that this cannot be obtained at the expense of health and safety, as Will Daynes finds out

For a number of years now a host of factors have resulted in refining margins becoming, and remaining, extremely volatile. Due to a combination of unknowns surrounding the future growth rate of the world’s leading economies, the price of crude oil, government regulations and the economics of alternative fuels, refining has become an ever-lower margin, high volume business. Nevertheless, while there is arguably a stronger focus on growth and profitability today, refiners cannot cut their way to growth, especially not at the expense of health, safety and the environment.

Safe and sound
“The safety of employees and the environment is vitally important and should always be a priority,” states Tim Shire, Vice President of New Solution Strategy and Launch for KBC, supplier of consultancy and simulation services for the oil and gas industry. “No profit is worth compromising safety for, and if the asset and its people suffer catastrophic loss all other business issues become irrelevant. For refiners, brand value is of high importance and safety statistics have become one of the key bellwether indicators of operational excellence.”

Like his peers, Paul Tanner, Johnson Controls’ Business Development Director for Oil, Gas and Energy, knows that employee safety should be at the top of the agenda for every industry, not just oil and gas. “Although budgets are tight, no-one can afford to lose their focus on improving and maintaining safety systems. Fortunately, developing technology offers refineries new ways to manage their health and safety programmes at a reasonable cost. Processes that used to be lengthy and manual, can now increasingly be automated, freeing up human time to focus on essential tasks including maintenance, planning and system upgrades.”

This is a thought process shared by Dennis Ostendorf, Solutions Director, Oil and Gas, Quintiq. “In order to meet present day demands, while also planning for the future, organisations must invest in new technologies to push overall performance to the limit,” he adds. “By exploring emerging elements such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and detailed analytics for predictive maintenance, and other safety measures, organisations can effectively ensure the well-being of their most important asset – people.”

Finding a solution
“In order to maximise value, without compromising on safety, refiners need to focus on being market-orientated and create value beyond the plant through value chain optimisation,” Tim continues. “They should also be nimbler, and offer a wider range of products and operating conditions to capitalise on all available opportunities.”

Rob Beck, Energy Industry Marketing Director of AspenTech, concurs with the above. “There are two significant measures of improvement when it comes to a refinery; its finances and its safe operation. While measuring the reliability of a component, an item of equipment or a process unit is important in its own right, only when the refinery’s entire systems are holistically accounted for, does this metric translate into the overall financial improvement of the whole facility. It is in our experience that a holistic, process-wide modelling approach is required to understand which system elements pose the biggest threat to a refinery’s uptime. By using a process system based reliability model, the best capital decisions can be rapidly made, and executives, insurers and financiers can understand the quantitative risk.”

Ultimately, it is the task of the refiner to find a way to look at the whole asset, taking into account uptime and production yields, while also targeting areas such as design-for-safety, hazard and risk analysis and asset integrity in order to achieve a better societal licence to operate.

“The oil sector has been facing severe cutbacks over the past few years as the price of oil has dropped. As a result, it is essential that companies are able to get the best value possible out of their health and safety procedures, while at the same time ensuring that best practice is constantly upheld and that the temptation to cut corners is avoided,” Paul adds. “To bring these concerns together, oil companies need to implement innovative safety regimes that integrate key systems under a single maintenance programme and management process. By integrating fire and gas detection, and fire suppression systems across the site, it is possible to reduce the costs associated with monitoring and servicing by consolidating those cost centres into a single onsite team or an offsite operations centre. With the rise of connected devices, these integration programmes can also help companies to gain access to beneficial data and can produce useful insights that can be used to improve the efficiency of safety systems.

“It is, of course, key to work with the right provider to implement these integrated, innovative systems. Ideally, you need to deal with a company that can cover all your fire and safety bases from a single point of contact, to reduce supplier admin and cut down on time spent managing different contracts. A single service-level agreement, and tried and tested working pattern can go a long way to reducing expense, while also keeping standards high.”

Tim ShireTim Shire, Vice President of New Solution Strategy and Launch for KBC
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Paul TannerPaul Tanner, Johnson Controls’ Business Development Director for Oil, Gas and Energy
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Dennis OstendorfDennis Ostendorf, Solutions Director, Oil and Gas, Quintiq
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