When Petrofac established its shared emergency response and crisis management business in Aberdeen during 2005, locating the facility downstairs from the Maritime Coastguard Agency at Blaikies Quay, the company was, in a sense, pushing at an open door, yet at the same time, it wasn’t.
However, given that “establishment” operators had more or less done their own thing for many years, there was the risk that they could become precious about keeping their emergency response/crisis management capability in-house, whereas the position was exactly the opposite for North Sea newcomers already reliant on contractors for most services.
Broadly, the initial response was encouraging, according to Trevor Riley, who manages emergency response and crisis management at Petrofac.
He told Energy: “It took a lot of pushing on doors that sort of wanted to swing open, yet at the same time, there was resistance. A lot of people said, ‘Yes, great idea, we understand that there could be some key benefits, but where is it, where is this physical facility that we can use? How is it going to be operated? How is it going to be managed?’.
“Because emergency response for many oil companies is a very near and dear item, it’s something that they take seriously and it’s something they try to protect. They’re very keen to make sure they look after they folk, and have a legal requirement to do so.
“To physically transfer that legal requirement … that task … to a third-party contractor is a tough one to make for some companies. One thing that was key to us at all stages was stating that the response centre itself would be provided by Petrofac; moreover we would make sure it was maintained, make sure it was continuously ready and at all times to respond very quickly.
“We explained to the clients that there was always the need for them to retain certain key functions within their emergency response capability. The first one of those was that they were still responsible for the decision-making process … whether to down-man, to move, to evacuate … whatever. That remained theirs because they are legally responsible for the actions they take.”
Other functions that were thought of as operator in-house responsibilities included:
Offshore-onshore contact – perhaps associated with a platform that is having difficulties.
Media strategy – is it going to be an acceptance, a denial, a holding statement, trying to push back or a move to be proactive during an incident.
Personnel – notification of next of kin is the employer’s responsibility, as is the oil company’s relationships with the police.
Commercial arrangements – maybe it’s an incident that requires a vessel with oil-spill capability, or a helicopter, or they want to book a hotel.
Riley said: “Whereas some clients saw it as a potential for us to take over the whole responsibility, we had to convince them we were here to support, not to take the decisions away from them, not to complete all the actions; our job was to make it happen. They make the decision and we do the work underneath to make it happen … to free them up to make those critical decisions.”
In a nutshell, while Petrofac was keen to get the big guys on board, its emergency response proposal was well timed to capture new-generation UKCS players.
“For some operators coming in, where their office in Aberdeen might only be a handful of people – yet they still have the legal responsibility – this was the only place that they could come to, other than piggybacking on the back of another operator,” said Riley.
“In terms of the regulators, there was little real resistance there. One thing the MCA saw as an advantage was that we would be in the same building, so lines of communication are much easier. Today, our guys go up to talk with their guys and their guys come down to our guys. That’s on a day-to-day basis and not just during an emergency.”
The Petrofac centre never closes. The baseline is that it is manned by a minimum of two officers on a 24/7 basis. Their job is emergency response – that’s all they do – some are former offshore people with 20-odd years of experience, or have worked for the police. They regularly train and exercise with the MCA so they understand the offshore industry.
“Our guys are also trained to take certain actions so that when the duty manager turns up at the response centre, the event log has already started, computers are booted up, systems checked and some of the notifications may already have started,” said Riley.
“Weather will be on the board, persons on the subject installation will be printed. As the duty manager walks in, the room will be warm, not cold, and already providing support for the offshore guys while the response team is coming in.”
As one would expect, the centre has been used in anger. In its first year (2005-06), the facility took 23 calls where offshore installation crews went to muster. Out of those, six were live incidents where there was a real issue and there were three that required the centre to be manned up. But there was only one where the whole centre was manned up.
Year two saw 40 live incidents, of which 20 were false alarms. So far this year, the count has passed 30 live incidents, of which two have involved partial mobilisation at Petrofac. So does that mean the facility is an unnecessary expense?
Not according to Riley.
“They (the operators) have a requirement to ensure people are on call, and whether they do it through their own auspices or through ourselves is their ultimate decision. To have people on call, people need to be trained … they have to exercise – including simulations involving outside agencies.
“For each of those clients to maintain an appropriate level of competence is going to be costly. The normal ratio of duty rosters is that you need six to eight people for each position. The average team is about six people, so that’s 36 folk that physically need to be trained and exercised. That’s not counting the relatives response aspect.
“If you train each one and exercise each once a year, that means you need six exercises. What we’re saying is that, because I exercise on average once per month … all other duty managers do the same … we’re getting 12 exercises a year through our shared system,” said Riley.
“When we’re not actually on call or responding, we’re writing procedures and exercises, doing related research. It’s a full-time job, and that’s just incident management.
“What we’re finding is that benefits derive from client teams coming in here and being supported by guys who exercise once a month; their skill levels are getting better because they’re able to focus on client-type decisions.
“As for being used in anger only twice a year, I would hope that we would never get used for real.”