Very recently, I was in Heathrow Terminal Two B settling myself down awaiting for the boarding of Avianca Flight 121 to Bogota when a well dressed man pulling a wheely bag approached the lounge and whom I immediately recognised. Having worked within British Petroleum (BP) projects, as both owner representative and contractor, the man I identified was Mr Tony Hayward, who had held a high profile in BP.
For those who keep up to date with the Oil and Gas scene it may be remembered that Mr Hayward took over Mr John Brown’s position of Chief Executive of Oil and Energy of BP in 2007. Mr Brown had steered BP to a World leader in the Oil and Gas Industry and had hand-picked Mr Hayward as his replacement. As Mr Hayward sat in the Chief Executive chair of BP he was totally unaware of the turmoil his life was to enter in 2010
Seeing Mr Hayward my mind wound back, by some 23 years, to my involvement with the development of the Cusiana Oil Field in Colombia.
Sometime in the early 1990’s the Colombian Oil and Gas industry identified a need to develop their energy reserves to meet an anticipated increase in demand for oil and oil products. This identification led the Empresa Colombiana de Petroleos (later Ecopetrol) to invite majors from the Oil and Gas Industry to place proposals to Empresa Colombiana de Petroleos for the development of the Cusinana and Cupiagua Oil fields. British Petroleum was the successful company to be awarded the contract to manage the development. Of course, BP has engineering staff to oversee developments but they normally contract an EPC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction) Company to execute the design, material purchase and construction activities.
Naturally, the Colombian Company responsible for the energy development wished that a degree of technical knowledge would be transferred to Colombia as part of the oil field development. Accordingly, BP were committed to use a Colombian Company to carry out the EPC of the project.
BP required to source a Colombian company with skills not normally found in Colombia, however, after some research they located a small company outside of Bogota which had distant connections to a major EPC contractor. The company was approached and it was determined that the company did indeed have some connections with Foster Wheeler Energy Limited (FW). The company approached FW New York to determine interest and FW New York advised that they did not have the resources but pointed a way to Foster Wheeler, Reading, England.
After negotiations, with FW Reading, an Engineering team was drawn together using the resources available and, quite quickly, the team was in Colombia. The team was 18 strong and was intended to support the local FW staff in Colombia, however, it soon became evident that the delivery of a high performance plant would not be achieved if the 18 strong UK team did not take the lead.
Within the Project offices, which were situated about 11 Kms from the Bogota city boundary, the overall team, that had built up, comprised of top tier Colombian Management, second Tier BP Engineering staff, third tier FW Colombia Staff and 4th Tier FW UK staff.
Well into the time line of the Project design a senior BP man arrived in the offices. He had arrived from London and a meeting was quickly called with the Project team leaders. The BP man was there to cut the costs of the project and he focussed on the big ticket items on which to cut costs. Two particular items were addressed a) the slug catcher design and b) the river crossing design. The BP man told the meeting that BP thought that FW had overdesigned the Slug Catcher, a device to separate gas from liquids, and the river crossing. He made it clear that costs had to be cut and he cited that FW were designing to a 100 year event which he though was unnecessary.
Following the meeting the FW engineers gathered together and discussed the existing design and the reasons supporting each part of the specification. The team agreed that the reasons behind the specification were valid and that FW would not design to a lower specification which included the 100 year event.
The FW team reported back to the BP management team that the design was for the 100 year event and the overall design had been re-validated and costed and the FW team could not recommend any changes. The response to this statement, by BP, was that FW would receive no other contracts.
A short time later, a BP engineer stood in front of the gathered FW staff and told the audience that there would be no further work given to FW due to cost escalation.
It was a nine months later when the Cusiana field was fully operational and pumping oil to the coast that a massive earthquake struck Colombia. The centre of the earth quake was, for all intent and purpose centred on the small town of Yopal which was the operating centre for the Cusiana Project. Houses in Bogota were reduced to rubble and the distance between Bogota to Yopal is better than 200 kms. There was no reported damage to the Slug Catcher or the river crossing. Accordingly the FW team were justified in withstanding the pressure, to reduce costs, made by BP.
Sat at home, in 2010 in front of a TV, I watched video recordings made of the first hours of the Deepwater Horizons Platform disaster unfold. It was the Piper Alpha platform disaster all over again. Solid working practices that had served the Industry well over many years had not been followed. These practices had been put in place to prevent major events impacting of the HSE record of the industry and shareholders. However, the conflict between Quality and Cost was always a huge issue for the industry. Oh, yes, and the safety of workers? Well this was an insurance issue.
So, joining flight Avianca 121 on the 3rd May 2016 I wondered “what was the purpose of the journey that My Hayward was taking?” Later, by interrogating Wikipedia, I learned that the Deepwater Horizon debacle had claimed another innocent victim, Mr Haywards first wife and he was, most probably, at the time I saw him, on his way to see his new Colombian wife.
As I write, I ponder on how people living in their own “House of Cards” square the deaths of workers against profits lost in an accident. Sadly, the culture that has developed in industry and particular the oil and gas industry is one that places profits before safety and, of course, the shareholders dividend.
The Piper Alpha disaster brought the attention of the UK government to the lax working practices in the offshore platforms. This resulted in the boards members of major companies in the oil and gas industry to review their position with respect to safety. Companies soon found out that practices taking place in their operating companies, at a distance from the head office, were not addressing safety in accordance with the requirements of the board members. Major oil and gas companies then contracted many engineers into their organisations to support the task of “cleaning up” their poor safety records. However, even as the “clean up” started, there was found to be a great reluctance to “do the safe thing” if it cost, for example, a tool pusher to spend $10,000 out of his budget. I personally have experienced this reluctance to place safety before profit on many occasions as an oil field engineer.
Mr Tony Hayward had to “carry the can” for the Deepwater Horizon as he was considered ultimately responsible, however, the major cause of the incident was having more than one company involved at the work face of the incident. It may not be understood by the general public that, typically, at the work face of the Deepwater Horizon incident, there was a number of companies specialising in their own fields of expertise eg Transocean, Halliburton and others. All these fields of expertise being required at the work face to bring about a successful well hook up. Further, all these companies have other work interfaces to attend according to a very tight schedule. That is, each company at the work interface is under pressure to leave the work interface and proceed to the next work interface. Hence, corners are cut and risks are taken which lead to these fatal incidents. Mr Hayward fate was entwined with a risk being taken, which he nor BP “bought into,” but were held responsible for the resulting catastrophe.
Clearly, the Shells, EXXONs and the BP of this World have shareholders that want a healthy return on their investment and these companies, in turn, have made exhaustive efforts to minimise risk. The operators and specialists at the work interfaces are all working to specific procedures and check lists and so what more can be done to avoid major disasters. Note it is the people at the work face who will be injured and killed if a work face becomes out of control. In my experience it is not these people who initiate the start of a series of events that become uncontrollable but people above them who put pressure on those at the work face to cut corners. What can be done about that?
So with the Worlds major companies, that transport people across the globe, having the technology to operate planes without pilots, ships without captains and buses and cars without drivers, it is no doubt that major accidents will happen when the control instrumentation fails. I have experienced a ship’s engine room in panic when the automation failed so failures cannot be ruled out. In the field of engineering the design engineer attempts to “engineer out” risk but the risk cannot be totally “engineered out”. There will be failures on the way forward and there will be significant costs to overcome failures that have caused deaths. What would you think if the costs of eliminating a failure issue was weighed up against the cost of paying out compensation for people killed and the bean counters made a financial case for preferring to pay compensation for deaths rather than fix the control problem. That sadly is my experience.