Houston Chronicle columnist Loren Steffy Saturday offered a thoughtful, and critical, column about the U.S. oil industry and its unwillingness to take responsibility safety issues.
Ostensibly, the column was a preview of a major trade show that starts this week in Houston, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC). But Steffy uses that event as a platform to talk about need for a change of culture in the oil industry in terms of making safety a priority.
The column starts out talking about the Deepwater Horizon debacle, an accident that killed 11 people and dumped oil for months in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The worst offshore oil disaster in U.S. history is now more than two years in the past, and for much of that time the industry’s outward response to the accident has been dominated by down playing and denial — that accidents happen, that the industry’s safety record is stellar, or that it was an isolated case of bad decisions on a single project,” Steffy writes.
The prevention of such devastating accidents and safety in general are supposed to be hot topics at the OTC. For example, there will be a discussion of process safety led by Scott Randall, managing director of PlusAlpha Risk Management. Participants on that panel had to submit papers on the topic, according to Steffy.
She suggests that the oil industry depends too much on devices to try to keep workers safe, rather than instituting improved safety practices.
Another topic at the conference will be how the industry will go about complying with new government regulations regarding offshore safety.
A bevy of new oil industry hardware and software will also be on display at the conference.
“The question that remains is whether attitudes will change with the hardware, or whether companies will continue to rely too much on technology rather than changing their cultures to make operations safer,” Steffy writes.
She also references a phenomenon that may led to more injuries: “the great crew change.” That refers to the large wave of experienced oil workers who are retiring, to be replaced by younger, less experienced crews. Less experience will translate to more accidents, in my book.