Consistently devastating oil spills in North America since 2010 have led Canada’s National Energy Board to weigh in on what it sees as three priorities for oil and gas sector management going forward.
The National Energy Board (NEB) released the discussion paper, Emerging Issues in Oil and Gas Safety Management, in advance of a pipeline safety forum it hosts in June 2013.
Before listing its priorities, the new NEB paper delves into specific spills like the 2010 BP Macondo Well in the Gulf of Mexico, and the more recent 2012 Plains Midstream Rainbow Line spill in Alberta.
“These events and others demonstrate the need for the energy sector to put renewed focus on safety and environmental protection,” the six-page September 2012 NEB paper states.
The new paper comes as a joint review panel, representing both the NEB and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, examines the potential risks associated with the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed between Alberta’s oilsands and the British Columbia coast.
According to the NEB, the main priorities for the oil and gas sector moving forward are: corporate leadership accountability for growing and maintaining a healthy safety culture; the appropriate requirements of effective management systems; and the ability to measure risk mitigation, hazard identification, and also the ability to measure the potential decline of active safety measures and controls.
One consistent problem the NEB has identified is the tendency for corporations to focus safety concerns squarely on employees.
“This approach to safety performance measurement has principally two short-comings,” the NEB says.
Notably, an employee-based approach limited to “slip, trip and fall hazards” eliminates substantial risks posed to both the public and the environment. It also provides an inaccurate account of the overall level of safety of an activity or facility, the NEB says. The report notes an example from the final report for a BP Texas City refinery explosion from 2005, which said “reliance on low personal injury rates at Texas City as a safety indicator failed to provide a true picture of process safety performance and the health of the safety culture”.
According to energy expert Warren Mabee, policy director at Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, a corporation might be willing to sacrifice some environmental protection in order to achieve an added measure of worker safety.
Mabee told Ecolog News that “a recommendation I would like to have seen, even in such a brief document as this, would have been to institute a dual track process – looking at worker safety and environmental protection in parallel – and identifying places where the two shared common or divergent goals.”
The NEB paper states that “companies have a vested interest in raising performance and championing similar attention in other organizations: societal expectations of industry and its leaders have evolved; high hazard industries are subject to intense scrutiny by affected communities, non-governmental organizations and the general public. A company’s reputation could be significantly impacted by the aggregate reputation of the industry as a whole.”
The NEB poses a question that asks why corporate energy industry leaders have not been more actively engaged in safety management. It says the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has developed guidance on corporate governance for safety in high-hazard industries that can help senior management take charge of safety concerns.
The NEB even assembled a question-based checklist for CEOs who want to step up safety management. It suggests oil and gas corporations answer questions like “as a senior leader, how do you manage the business risk of a major accident?” and “how does safety and environmental management factor into your internal corporate scorecard?”
Implementing effective management systems can be challenging, the NEB paper states, which is why the board says it’s currently reworking Onshore Pipeline Regulations, 1999 (SOR/99-294) to “explicitly require the integration of programs and functions in management system design and implementation”.
-----This story originally appeared on EcoLog.com on September 14, 2012 -----