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In times of unrest, rig should use isolated location to its advantage

In January this year, as unrest unfolded in the northern capital city of Tunis, H&P decided that its rig operating in the remote southern part of the country should not evacuate because evacuation could have put crews in more danger.
In January this year, as unrest unfolded in the northern capital city of Tunis, H&P decided that its rig operating in the remote southern part of the country should not evacuate because evacuation could have put crews in more danger.

This industry is in the business of keeping its employees safe, and with civil and political unrest unfolding this year – often rapidly and unexpectedly – in several countries in the Middle East, security has moved into the spotlight. Speaking at the 2011 IADC Critical Issues Middle East Conference & Exhibition, held 10-11 May in Dubai, Helmerich & Payne security manager Matthew White urged his fellow drilling contractors to think through their emergency evacuation plans, even if it seems like your countries of operation are quiet and stable.

Who really expected the Tunisian revolution to come about as quickly as it did, for example? “I did not see it coming at all, and I did not see any security reports that suggested it either. It happened all very quickly,” Mr White recalled.

There are numerous considerations to be made in formulating a security plan, and among the first should be whether security will fall under the domain of the company’s safety manager, whether an internal security department is needed or whether consultants should be hired. “The safety manager is a busy guy. He’s not going to sit down and write a security plan. He may not even know what a security plan is. Therefore, give him some help,” Mr White said.

Security plans also must be simple and clear. He pointed to the US Department of Homeland Security, which recently revised its national terror alert program because the previous one was simply too complex and confusing. “If (the security plan) is too detailed and lengthy, nobody’s going to read it.”

Mr White suggested that drilling contractors work closely with their customers and establish a relationship with the operator’s security manager. “Use the resources that are available to you, because not all drilling contractors have security. I’m a department of one, and yet we’ve got operations in nine countries. I can’t be everywhere.”

When making the decision on whether to evacuate a crew, Mr White believes drilling contractors should use the isolation of rig sites to their advantage. “It may be that they’re so isolated where they are that they’re unaffected by the general unrest. We’ve seen, for example, in Tunisia, the unrest was in Tunis (the capital city to the north). Down in the south, where the operations were, we were totally unaffected; therefore the decision was made, we’re going to carry on drilling,” he said.

At H&P, the decision to evacuate is made in-country with support from the head office. “If in-country decides that they want to evacuate, then we will support them in the head office because they live in the country. They know what is going on far better than me in Houston or somewhere else.”

He continued: “I think the big question for me when it comes to making a recommendation that we need to evacuate is, are we putting our employees in more danger by evacuating?”

Mr White also urged companies to get a second passport for employees whose countries allow it, such as the US. He cited the example of an employee who had sent his passport away to get his visa renewed. “So he was in country without a passport. That, as a security professional, I think we would all agree is a disaster,” he said. Having a second passport for your employees would be an advantage that could potentially avoid headaches down the road in times of emergency or evacuation.

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