With the changing trends of energy supply and consumption come adaptation and altered business models of oil and gas companies, respectively. While producers look to the future and carve out new stakes in this new frontier of renewable energy, one prominent factor has remained the same regarding the offshore oil and gas sector and its compliance. No matter where the industry might go within the next ten years, offshore producers live in the here and now.
Being selected to conduct business offshore as a service company comes with great rewards but sometimes challenges, as well. Clearing the hurdles of securing the work is only one step in a winding staircase that seems to meander on and on for a continuous period – service procurement results from the painstaking task of proving compliance and then maintaining that condition. Different segments mandated by the customer bring compliance, but only when fulfilled.
Known widely across the blue waters of impressive depths as SEMS, Safety and Environmental Management Systems exist as a performance-based method designed to heighten operations’ safety and environmental performance by integrating and managing work practices. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which regulates compliance, stipulates an abundance of elements or requirements that must be met to maintain compliance. These include safety and environmental information, hazard analysis, management of change, operating procedures, safe working practices, training programs, mechanical integrity, pre-startup review, emergency response and control, incident investigation, auditing, recordkeeping, stop work authority, ultimate work authority, employee participation plan, and reporting unsafe working conditions.
For those operators conducting business offshore, they must work and simultaneously remain in compliance while doing so. As a result, the operators require the same of their service providers. Submission must be met, proven and maintained. While it may appear as simple as checking off items on a list, in reality, it remains a daunting and tedious task.
With its corporate office headquartered in Lafayette, Louisiana, VCG Energy provides offshore customers with consulting, well site supervision and project management professionals. As a result, the firm must remain SEMS compliant to actively conduct business.
“We realized early on in this process that we did not have the appropriate personnel to tackle something like this on our own,” says Brandon Douvio, CEO and Partner of VCG Energy. “For VCG, the solution was to use a third party HSE consultant. We have worked with Quest Safety Solutions since the beginning, and we continue to work closely with them to ensure that our policies and training stay current.”
Although the SEMS standard specifies those specific elements of importance, focus points can become obscure, resulting in difficulty remaining in compliance. Each operator focuses more heavily on differing provisions which influence the service provider’s course of compliance.
“The main challenge of compliance with our clients’ individual SEMS programs has been that different clients focus on different elements. Some clients focus more on training and others on documentation, etc.,” says Douvio. “For instance, there isn’t a single training standard from operators that they all agree upon fully. Each operator has different training requirements for the same job title. That isn’t a huge deal, but it does require us to stay flexible and ready to move, which I believe is an advantage for us.”
Although challenging to achieve and maintain, SEMS compliance has brought highly measurable increments of success to the offshore industry in providing a safer working environment. For those forced to run the gauntlet of compliance, the rewards cannot be mistaken.
“For years, our industry has treated safety as something second to production, but SEMS compliance flips that narrative,” says Douvio. “The benefits to SEMS include a more useful and effective safety program, a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities and, to some extent, standardized training requirements.”
Contractor management refers to the process of maintaining contractor information as required by the customer. For the offshore industry, the operators call upon various providers such as CanQualify, ISN, Veriforce and Avetta, to name a few. These entities provide a system that gathers, sorts and presents the contractor or service provider’s information.
These various contractor management databases maintain SEMS requirements. The service provider inputs the data into the specific contractor management database, where it is cultivated and shared with the operator to verify compliance. This process appears simplistic; however, the data entry process can become tedious and utilize different navigation techniques. Quite simply, no two contractor management databases are the same.
The challenge presents itself in the variation, or inconsistency, of managing various contractor management databases to fulfill the compliance requirements mandated by each customer. While Operator X might use Veriforce and Operator Y uses ISN, the service provider has no choice but to subscribe to both sites and input the data for each if it plans to service both operators. According to Rob Hacker of CanQualify, a contractor management solution provider, customizing the application can provide ease.
“Contractor management is paramount,” says Hacker. “CanQualify offers the ability to set up the system based on the needs of the contractor and the type of work they perform. So, an offshore site can set up different requirements than an onshore location, but even the contractors can also have different requirements. A blanket policy for compliance doesn’t always work. A better way would be to establish relevant requirements based on the actual work performed while also accounting for any regulatory and standard requirements.”
While managing multiple databases for multiple offshore customers can be met with frustration, the benefits make life easier for service providers in several ways. Being a primary element of the SEMS program, training is a large part of the service provider repertoire better managed through contractor management databases.
“Training schedules can be set up when a certificate expires, or training needs to be renewed,” says Hacker. “There are many options available for assessments and clients [service providers] can upload their own orientation videos as well. The unique thing about the employee management piece is the individual employee owns the data, so if the employee happens to go to work for a new company, their profile can transfer with them.”
This capability assists in better managing training and conserving time. For example, suppose an employee, whose training information has been entered into a CanQualify account leaves one service company and moves to another that uses CanQualify. In that case, the company can import their training records. This dramatically cuts down on time spent entering data. Therefore, compliance is achieved much sooner. Once compliance is met and then maintained, the service provider can go straight to work offshore if a service agreement is in place.
Service companies seeking business offshore run this obstacle course of compliance because they care about the safety of their employees but also because, unless they achieve this gold standard of sorts, a service agreement is unattainable.
According to Douvio, service agreements are not difficult to obtain if the operator or customer receives quality service and maintains compliance. That compliance factor hinges greatly on SEMS and how business is managed through those contractor management databases. Douvio also indicates that even with the current trends of pursuing renewable energy and net zero emissions, the approach to winning service agreements and conducting business offshore remains the same.
“There has been a slight decline in business due to the price of oil and gas, but currently business is [on] the incline,” says Douvio.
The world of offshore compliance often involves various facets of a business. Still, for the most part, they all find representation in the Big Three of SEMS requirements, contractor management and service agreements. Keeping these areas of interest up to date tends to have a trickle-down effect on the others.
Almost all of the safety requirements find root in SEMS. This includes accident investigation, incident reporting and stop work authority, among others. While contractor management sites fulfill customer requirements, they also assist in meeting safety and SEMS requirements. These abidance areas shore up the ability to win and maintain those service agreements that route the course to working offshore, an industry that has often paved the way in increased safety standards, innovative operating methods and pioneering better ways to conduct business.
Photos courtesy of Pixabay.
Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. In addition to providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. Vaccaro also contributes to SHALE Oil and Gas Business Magazine, Louisiana Sportsman Magazine, and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. He has a BA in photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. Vaccaro can be reached at 985-966-0957 or email@example.com.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.