At approximately 9:45am on 20 April 2010 on the British Petroleum-operated Macondo Prospect (Macondo), a bubble of methane gas escaped from the Deepwater Horizon well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding.

This catastrophic failure cost British Petroleum (BP) an estimated US$61.6 billion. More importantly, eleven lives were lost and many workers were injured.

Michael Fry was a Subsea Superintendent for Transocean when the Deepwater Horizon tragedy took place, and he has first-hand experience of the impact that outdated processes can have when it comes to operations, compliance and safety.

Today, Mr Fry leads a company – Deepwater Subsea – which is focused on real-time monitoring and aims to end preventable errors that cause incidents like the Macondo blowout, through digital transformation and operational excellence.

Deepwater Horizon podcast

In his podcast, Mr Fry touches on the reasons why a damaged blowout preventer (BOP) can go unnoticed with bad processes and human error, as well as how organisations can reduce this risk. Listen to his thoughts via the podcast here.

Of course, this issue is not isolated to oil exploration.

A research study by DEKRA Organisational Safety and Reliability revealed that the utility sector has a 32 per cent exposure rate for serious injuries and fatalities, which is seven per cent higher than the all-industry rate.

Moreover, according to McKinsey and Company, “many energy companies have observations and maintenance tickets that could yield valuable data for predictive maintenance, safety and other use cases, yet all too often this data is wasted because digital observation tools and text-mining capabilities are lacking”.

In fact, the operational problems that led to the Macondo disaster represent a common challenge facing many companies within the energy and utility industries – a disconnect between physical assets and visibility into accurate data that can be leveraged to manage risk, be it in the field, on a plant or an offshore rig.

You won’t always have the luxury of bringing someone in to fix something when it is thousands of feet away on the ocean floor, but, as Mr Fry explains, with modern technology you can monitor a system from anywhere.

“You can be in the UK and I can be in Houston and say, ‘look, this is what the system’s doing in real-time’,” Mr Fry said.

“Never before have we been able to do that even though the data’s been sitting there in these control systems since we started 20 years ago.”

Mr Fry describes one of the major issues with the Macondo disaster was that in the initial hours after the incident occurred, nobody could confirm the status of the BOP because the rig was on fire, the crew were on lifeboats being rescued, whilst his team were in the office trying to troubleshoot, secure the well and stop the flow.

Without digitised document management and accessible insights, the latest data from the BOP was as good as buried.

Deepwater Horizon forced government regulators and owners to take an urgent look at current processes.

“It’s not just about regulations, it’s about how much you are willing to truly understand what’s going on with your equipment,” Mr Fry said.

“Don’t you want to know the true status of your blowout preventer at this very moment? The response should be yes.”

When it comes to Deepwater Subsea, Mr Fry said the company is winning business because they’ve built a reputation on being 100 per cent compliant, 100 per cent of the time – something that is only possible by enhancing existing processes with technology.

The organisation can give a government watchdog a compliance report in mere minutes, providing businesses with a competitive edge.

“Moving forward, if a piece of equipment fails, I’ve loaded up the system with the make, model, serial number, historical data, all the KPIs, operational parameters, everything,” Mr Fry said.

“Instead of having to go to a book and look all this information up, I click on a button and it pulls up all the historical information of that component in the P&ID.

“And better yet, if I want to show the live trend of what’s going on with that piece of equipment in real-time, I just click a button and the trend shows up on the screen.

“If companies embrace digitalisation, including training, live P&IDs, digital checklists and real-time monitoring, their operational excellence will quickly shift in the right direction.”

Digitised operations can no longer be viewed as a nice-to-have, but rather a competitive and compliance must-have.

To hear more about what went wrong with Deepwater Horizon, the challenges behind implementing a digital operations strategy and how Deepwater Subsea is embracing technology, listen to the full podcast here.

This partner content is brought to you by Hexagon PPM. For more information, visit https://hexagonppm.com/.

Siobhan Day is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and Pump Industry magazine, and has been part of the team since early 2019. With a background in management in the non-profit sector, Siobhan has extensive experience in communications, professional writing and client management. She holds a Bachelor of Business and Communications and is currently completing a postgraduate degree.

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