Transforming Oil & Gas Environmental Compliance Through a Connected Approach
Companies must consider the effect emissions have on their field personnel.
- By Sean Stinson
- Sep 01, 2021
In recent years, the oil & gas industry has faced increased regulatory pressure as governments around the world seek to reduce a variety of emissions commonly generated by refineries, drill sites and platforms and processing plants.
This trend gained additional momentum on June 30, 2021, when U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill that repealed previously rolled back regulations on methane emissions from oil & gas operations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act provides yet another set of guidelines for the industry. Others have proposed a wide range of policies to limit or penalize methane gas leaks that would add to the list of requirements for oil & gas companies. Required tactics would include proactive leak detection, facility repair and hazard mitigation or the establishment of gas capture rate minimums.
In addition to added regulatory pressure, oil & gas companies must also consider the effect emissions have on their field personnel. Many cases result in both short- and long-term risks such as toxic gas exposures and flammable hazards that can impact workers’ health or even result in death.
The presence of hazardous substances can also have a large impact on quality of life and mental wellbeing both at, and away, from the workplace. Leading groups such as the National Safety Council have taken notice, creating programs such as the Work to Zero initiative that focuses on eliminating workplace fatalities by 2050 through the use of safety technology.
As environmental compliance requirements and workforce health and safety challenges continue to increase, oil & gas companies are tasked with reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining production levels and profitability. These efforts require a strong collaboration between safety and operations teams and can be challenging. Yet, they represent a transformative shift in approach in the industry toward a greater focus on public health and industry sustainability.
Connected Safety’s Role in Oil & Gas Sustainability
In recent years, connected technology has grown in popularity in the consumer space, from tracking an Uber’s location on our phones to monitoring our heart rate on our wrists. Similar technology has made its way to the industrial sector, where it can enhance worker safety, amplify gas detection and play a major role in organizations’ emissions reduction programs.
Connected safety technology empowers companies using cloud-based hardware, software and data analytics solutions to integrate workers and workplaces, in real-time, into a cohesive ecosystem. When devices automatically collect situational data throughout the worker’s shift and then stream it directly to a cloud-based portal where it is filtered and organized for investigation, it is possible for organizations to identify gas release and environmental hazards before they become critical. For those who choose to advance beyond traditional beep-and-flash compliance monitors, it has never been simpler to gain complete situational awareness of their oil & gas operations, including fugitive gas leaks in a facility.
For these reasons and many more, connected safety is revolutionizing industrial HSE, presenting an opportunity for the oil & gas industry to address its environmental challenges without impacting business productivity.
Achieving Full Worksite Visibility
Through the capabilities of connected safety, oil & gas companies can now reach a new level of access and visibility into the activity, opportunities and threats across a worksite. Whether personnel are working in groups or alone, the comprehensive situational awareness empowers safety managers and industrial hygienists with data-driven insights that enable informed decision making and the advanced ability to mitigate risk.
For example, the cellular and satellite connectivity of connected safety technology provides real-time access to reports displaying the location of “hot spots” across a refinery where even low levels of methane and other hydrocarbon gases are present. These insights ensure that safety, instrumentation and leak repair teams can take appropriate, immediate action to locate and rectify a potential gas leak before it becomes a larger issue, potentially causing harm to employees or the environment.
Identifying Leading Indicators and Addressing Problem Areas Proactively
It is one thing to have the tools in place to spring into action should an incident or gas leak occur, it is another thing to know about a hazard and do something about it before anything happens at all.
The visibility achieved through connected safety also allows oil & gas companies to adopt a more proactive approach to health and safety. In addition to real-time access, data streamed from devices is stored in the cloud and available to view by various stakeholders after the fact.
Organizations can leverage this data to identify patterns in gas levels and leaks as well as other key safety indicators, helping teams forecast where issues are more likely to occur again in the future. For example, a heat map of incidents can identify an area where a few falls are repeatedly recorded. This fall data can indicate that tripping hazards are present, such as uneven or broken stairs, icy spots and more, that can be managed or repaired before more people fall victim.
Through this approach, safety and industrial hygiene professionals can change procedures or address at-risk behavior proactively to help minimize the risks to personnel and their surroundings. It also allows for swift adjustments, which reduces downtime during time-intensive projects such as turnarounds or planned maintenance, without sacrificing safety.
Streamlining Regulatory Compliance Reporting
In addition to its day-to-day operational benefits, connected safety technology can also streamline the process of gas detection compliance reporting. The data produced by devices and stored in the cloud enables safety teams to ensure the company remains compliant with industry regulations, especially those related to gas exposures and leaks. The constant, real-time monitoring also helps teams track and evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken to reduce emissions.
Additionally, several organizations share connected safety data reports and visualizations with regulatory agencies proactively to demonstrate the progress of initiatives and their ability to “self-audit” their own efforts to reduce emissions.
Automating Gas Detection Through Artificial Intelligence
Organizations on the cutting-edge of digital transformation and gas detection have turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance health, safety and environmental compliance. When applied to the data produced by connected safety devices, AI automates the process of clustering and finding patterns in non-zero gas readings that often are not identified as alarm level exposures.
Artificial intelligence furthers safety professionals’ ability to work efficiently and in unison with operations teams to quickly discover patterns in gas exposures, predict where they may occur in the future and seamlessly address emerging threats before they become more dangerous.
The Future of Safety in the Oil & Gas Industry
As the oil & gas industry faces continued regulatory challenges and looks to further enhance its emissions reduction programs, a new approach to health and safety is needed—one that centers on connectivity, data analytics and automation.
An effective connected safety strategy offers benefits that stretch across every aspect of an organization. With the right focus, tools and resources, it delivers the visibility and insights needed to improve worker health, safety and wellbeing while ensuring sustainability for both the industry and our environment.
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.