Comment: ready for the worst20 February 2023

I am in the South Atlantic, 60 miles off the coast of Angola, although it’s a little farther to the nearest port. The sea depth here is 1,700m. We’re on a boat [an FPSO], but we can’t sail; there’s no propulsion, and are secured to the seabed with anchor chains.

The vessel fills with oil and gas. Added to that we are near shipping lanes, so tankers sail around us. The situation does focus the mind that risks exist.

Ultimately my first objective in any response is to prevent incidents, but they do happen. So I need to make sure that we have processes and controls in place to minimise their effect.

In the first instance is the barrier model. Emergency response is a gate at the end of the barrier. We need equipment in place to activate systems and a response. Actually, prior to that is detecting abnormal situations and responding automatically. We need to make sure that the systems are all working, that performance standards exist, as well as maintenance plans and procedures for testing to make sure that they will perform as expected in an emergency. Our people are continually trained, assessed and reassessed in response. We need to have the right organisational structure, and the skill sets, plans and procedures to respond systematically.

I am the on-scene commander of the site. That means that every minute of the day I need to maintain a state of readiness. The general alarm could go off at any time. If that does happen, I need to assess the situation and take effective actions. I need to consider the escalation potential. If there’s a gas release, what could happen; if it ignites, what might happen, and adjust my plans accordingly. It’s good practice to overreact in the first instance, to avoid an inadequate initial response. Initially there is limited information available, and it’s better to err on the side of caution – you can always peel back.

The final part, once all is said and done, and confirmed to be safe, is how you stand down a response. That includes telling stakeholders that all is well.

Steve Rees

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