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Interview

Caroline Roberts-Haritonov, Chief Consultant and Director, Astrimar, UK

29.05.2014 / Energyboardroom

Caroline Roberts-Haritonov,  Chief Consultant at Astrimar describes the businesses actions improving risk assessment and management in the North Sea. She details the industry’s changing attitudes towards safety and risk; particularly in response to catastrophic incidents such as that of Macondo, in the Gulf of Mexico. Finally, she gives her opinion on where the industry is likely to continue to develop in this area.

Astrimar began operations in April of 2010. What opportunities did you see in the oil and gas industry that encouraged its creation?

The founders of Astrimar have been involved in supporting and developing the processes for addressing subsea reliability since about 2000. During that time, reliability and risk were terms that were new to the industry and needed further understanding. Some of the UKCS operators had experiences in the subsea sector of the North Sea which were very expensive to redress. Historically, the industry and its technology had evolved gradually from on shore drilling to increasing water depths offshore. In the deeper fields in the North Sea and West of Shetland, operators realized complacency would be costly, not only in terms of health and safety but in terms of accessing installed subsea equipment for maintenance and repair. Astrimar began operating in May of 2010 and one of the key drivers that led to Astrimar’s establishment was seeing the maturing of the industry in recognising the benefit of reliability and technical risk management to support their operations.

The industry had become more fluent in the language of reliability. Technology itself evolved over those ten years to 2010 with further demands for technology to address the challenges of HPHT, corrosive production fluids and the like. The industry realized they needed more knowledge with regard to the engineering technology needed to deliver results. During this time the API Recommended Practice was being drafted on subsea reliability- it was finally published in 2009. The industry responded very well to its recommendations and this response led us to believe that there would be benefit in having a bigger profile in what we were doing. It was time to step out and be seen by the industry to be addressing these apparent and growing needs.

What we did not expect was the Deepwater Horizon disaster that occurred a month before Astrimar started operations. This led to a major shift in attitudes to risk in the industry. Deepwater Horizon was seen as a very low-probability event with a potential for very high consequence. Until that time the industry tended to focus its efforts on the more likely risks (with higher probability and lower consequences). An event like Deepwater Horizon was seen as something so unlikely it would not benefit from detailed risk analysis or risk management. The industry became much more risk-averse after the disaster. Astrimar found itself in the right place at the right time.

You have over 20 years’ experience in project engineering and consultancy experience in reliability and technical risk management; what do you consider to be the current status of mechanical and structural subsea infrastructure in the UKCS?

For a long time subsea technology development was by gradual evolution and there was an assumption that if the technology worked for the last development, then it would work for the next one. Another assumption suggested the risks introduced in new developments were very low given the experience of older technologies. Today the industry has more respect for its working environment and has reverted more to fundamental principles in the engineering, design, analysis, and verification of the design process. There is always going to be a huge amount of uncertainty in design, particularly for subsea engineering. The aging process of infrastructure and equipment are not well understood in the subsea environment. Astrimar puts significant emphasis on technology qualifications to help companies understand what the equipment needs to do during field implementation as well as the validation and assurance testing required to determine and prove its capabilities. The degradation process takes years and how the equipment will hold up over time will never be fully known. As a result of understanding the need to manage the unknowns, there is now a much better focus on monitoring and inspection of assets where operators are expecting degradation.

CRINE had quite a big impact on the reliability and integrity of infrastructure in the North Sea. Before CRINE, there was time and resources to produce everything to the highest standard. Assets were designed and analyzed to achieve the best possible. The earlier fields had low technology requirements but very good quality equipment. During CRINE’s introduction, cost reduction drove design decisions without considering risks that may be introduced and therefore low cost components were introduced into the system that were not proven to last for the required 25 year design life. Following CRINE, there were painful, expensive early-life system failures, for example, where commercial grade electronic components were introduced in harsher and more demanding environments than they were previously proven for. The industry went through a difficult learning curve and has progressed since then. We may not be back to the pre-CRINE era as there is always going to be a drive to keep costs down. The industry needs to find a balance between the right level of CAPEX and providing the best through life operating costs.

Reliability and Risk Management- how does Astrimar understand this task, and what added value does your consultancy offer that differentiates itself from competitors?

Our competitors tend to use commercially available reliability analysis tools to undertake reliability analysis and come up with a reliability figure for the equipment. Astrimar succeeds beyond this because we use the analysis to drive our solutions. Our focus provides insights to our clients with regard to the problems they are facing and emphasizes solutions to help them increase their reliability, availability, and integrity. Astrimar’s business is about providing reliability improvement solutions.

We understand the client’s needs and the available data; although frustratingly with subsea equipment there is on occasion very little data. This is because every subsea system is bespoke in some way as the designs and operating conditions are different for each development. Reliability is dependent on how the equipment is operated so data can be very variable. Looking at the available data we seek the best way to understand the key issues and uncertainties in order to identify the biggest risks and the options to manage those risks. We break down the specifics of the risks providing recommendations on how to control the possible consequences of a problem arising in the form of a practical action strategy.

We understand that introducing technology into the industry is quite a challenge given its conservativeness; how does Astrimar assess innovative technology and what in particular should companies keep in mind while developing new technologies?

The assessment of technology qualification is a key Astrimar service. In the past, the operators who have been the first users of new technology have on occasion experienced painful lessons by implementing the technology in a development project before it has been fully proven. Technology is often adopted as a key enabler to fields being developed but this can mean that it can be implemented into a field development project without being sufficiently tested. We try to provide a process to determine which items have been qualified and which still need to be proven. Astrimar employs the technology readiness level approach, developed by NASA and adopted by a number of other industries that uses a scale to determine the level of readiness for usage in the field, in a certain state. This method addresses the early failures that might occur within the subsea system using good engineering practice typically found in other industries and looks to provide assurance that the technology will operate in defined conditions without failure and for a substantial amount of time.
You will be presenting at the IMechE 2014 Subsea Engineering Conference in May giving a presentation entitled “Asset Integrity: Managing the Risks”. What are the main aspects that companies should apply to their own procedures in this very mature basin that is the North Sea?

Companies need to recognize the risks they have in a regulatory based industry as the culture is often that simply following regulation will deliver adequate performance. However, the regulations are only as good as the last revision and the industry is changing all the time, pushing boundaries of technology and its application. If one considers the aging assets in the North Sea and how far past the original design life span some have now gone, a large amount of uncertainty now exists. These assets have gone through life extension studies but there is limited experience in the industry to understand the uncertainty associated with those assets. The biggest risk is the one not yet identified and this should be driving the industry to eliminate complacency.
Astrimar are the leading drafting authors for the anticipated update for API RP 17N, how does this recommended practice best manage risks and maintain asset integrity?

Communicating and building the relationship between reliability and integrity has been a challenge. The two concepts are essentially the same but integrity focuses on operations and relates to safety whereas reliability traditionally focuses on design and has been used to define operational availability. The update to API RP 17N was triggered by the Macondo incident and led to the industry’s recognition of the connection of these two concepts. There has been a lack of alignment between these two disciplines at the design stage particularly with safety systems and this struggle ends up in a tug of war between delivering the right integrity and operational availability requirements. The API RP 17N update provides a way to tie reliability and integrity together.

The update also begins to consider the human factors that influence reliability and risk. In any failure, the root cause can often be traced back to someone doing something they should not have done or someone not managing to finish a task. Additionally, the original 17N was based on the feasibility stage to end of project execution- a basis to secure reliability. By joining integrity with reliability, the update includes measures through operations and to decommissioning giving it a whole life view.

Four years into this adventure, how would you rate the reception of your services by the market, and in future, how would you like to be perceived by clients?

Astrimar’s vision is for solid and sustainable growth. We provide efficient, pragmatic and effective solutions that deliver results to the client. These goals are quite carefully stated because reliability engineers are hard to find. Beyond this, subsea reliability engineers are even rarer and for Astrimar to maintain its success our engineers also need to be good consultants. Our biggest challenge and widest opportunity is having the right people on our team which is absolutely critical to providing the level of service that our clients need and expect. Astrimar expects to build a bigger and stronger base in Aberdeen and in our Cranfield and Houston offices and to further grow our client base in the UK and US.

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