Drilling Ahead: When bad things happen to good teams

Posted on 12 March 2014

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor

Why do bad things happen to teams with stellar safety histories? Why is it that a rig can go along for years with outstanding HSE metrics, then one day, seemingly out of the blue, succumb to a terrible incident that shatters lives and causes untold environmental damage? Did luck simply run out, or were there underlying factors that went unnoticed and uncorrected?

Astronaut Mike Mullane, who completed three space shuttle missions between 1984 and 1990, recently spoke at the IADC HSE&T Conference about a phenomenon known as normalization of deviance. It happens over time as individuals and teams that operate under pressures – often related to budgets or schedules – rationalize decisions to take shortcuts from best practices. In most cases, they will get away with it, and this leads them to think it was a right decision. The next time they’re in the same situation, they will be tempted to take the shortcut again. Over time, this deviance evolves into the norm, and the team is oblivious to how far it has strayed from best practices – until disaster strikes.

To prevent yourself and your team from falling victim to this phenomenon, the first line of defense is recognizing your vulnerability. “If it can happen to NASA, it can happen to anybody,” Mr Mullane said, referring to the Challenger and Columbia disasters that killed 14 astronauts.

Leaders also must recognize that can-do attitudes, on which many teams pride themselves, can be a double-edged sword. Aggressive problem-solving attitudes should not push workers into taking shortcuts in the name of getting the job done. “Remember, past miracle-making isn’t going to guarantee future miracles,” Mr Mullane said.

Finally, organizations should implement processes to archive and periodically review near-misses and past incidents. It’s only been four years, and the sting from Macondo is already starting to fade. So what about in 10 years? In 20 years? Columbia happened 17 years after Challenger and was a repeat of normalization of deviance. “Imagine the corporate memory loss,” Mr Mullane said.

As retirees walk out the door, taking with them decades of experience and wisdom, the drilling industry must find a way to keep the lessons learned from Macondo and other incidents fresh in its collective memory. Otherwise, it will be condemned to learn those lessons all over again.

Linda Hsieh can be reached at linda.hsieh@iadc.org.

Click here to view a video with astronaut Mike Mullane and DC associate editor Joanne Liou.

Leave a Reply

*

FEATURED MICROSITES


Recent Drilling News

  • 29 January 2015

    PetroQuip deploys BigFoot toe sleeve in Anadarko Basin

    PetroQuip Energy Services successfully implemented its revolutionary toe sleeve, BigFoot, in a recent horizontal completion for an independent operator...

  • 28 January 2015

    Chevron collaborating with BP, ConocoPhillips to explore 24 leases in deepwater Gulf of Mexico

    Chevron will collaborate with BP and ConocoPhillips to explore and appraise 24 jointly-held offshore leases in the northwest portion of Keathley Canyon...

  • 28 January 2015

    BP forms alliance to advance Paleogene discoveries in deepwater Gulf of Mexico

    BP has formed a new ownership and operating model with Chevron and ConocoPhillips to focus on moving two significant BP Paleogene discoveries closer to development...

  • 27 January 2015

    US EIA: Lower 48 oil production outlook stable despite expected rig count reduction

    The sharp decline in oil prices over Q4 2014, which has continued in January, is already having a significant effect on drilling activity in the US, according...

  • 27 January 2015

    Hess announces 2015 capital, exploratory budget

    Hess Corp announced a 2015 capital and exploratory budget of $4.7 billion, a 16% reduction from its 2014 actual spend of $5.6 billion. Of this, $2.1 billion (45%) is budgeted for unconventional shale resources...

  • Read more news