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Review: Standing Committee makes important recommendations related to the safety of Oil Installations

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The Standing Committee (SC) on Petroleum & Natural Gas recently submitted a report on ‘Safety & Security of Oil Installations in the Public Sector Oil Companies’ with a specific focus on the mishap which occurred in an ONGC installation at Western offshore during cyclone Tauktae. Here is a review.

The Standing Committee (SC) on Petroleum & Natural Gas recently submitted its 13th Report of the Lok Sabha. The focus of the report is on the ‘Safety & Security of Oil Installations in the Public Sector Oil Companies’ with a specific focus on the mishap which occurred in an ONGC installation at Western offshore during cyclone Tauktae. 

The highly inflammable materials handled by the Oil & Natural gas Industry along with high temperature & high-pressure environments mean that the various installations & plants are prone to accidents, which can be catastrophic.  Therefore, safety and security assume paramount importance in the industry. Despite not being among the global leaders in Petroleum & Natural Gas industry, India does have sizeable reserves along with various aligned infrastructure including – refineries, pipelines, processing units, etc. As per the information provided in the SC report, there are 23 refineries and 16 gas processing plants in the country. India has a total installed refining capacity of 250 Million Metric Tonne Per Annum (MMTPA). The indigenous crude oil production is around 31 MMTPA while gas production is around 34 million cubic meters per annum. 

Oil & Natural Gas Industry Infrastructure in India

Refineries

23

Gas Processing Units

16

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminals

6

Oil & LPG Installations

683

Exploration Installations

70

Production Installations

505

Length of Cross-country Pipelines (KM)

45,000

Safety Council, established in 1986 ensures proper implementation of various safety aspects 

Safety and Security of the plant, installations and employees in the Oil & Gas industries are generally ensured by the respective company, both in the public & private sector. In India, there are a number of authorities at various levels that oversee safety in the Petroleum & natural gas industry. These authorities operate simultaneously in framing safety regulations and their implementation. 

These include: 

  • Petroleum & Explosives Safety Organization (PESO)
  • Directorate General of Mines & Safety (DGMS) 
  • Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) 
  • Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD). 

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoP&NG) monitors the various safety issues in this sector and directs the oil companies to take suitable measures to ensure safety. The Ministry is assisted by a technical directorate – the Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD), which was formed in 1986 by a resolution of the Government. 

Further, Petroleum and Natural Gas (Safety in Offshore operations) Rules, 2008 were formulated to address the operational safety issues in Offshore Oil and Gas operations. OISD is the nodal agency for overseeing the implementation of these rules. 

To ensure the implementation of various safety aspects in this industry, the Government of India has set up the “Safety Council” as the apex body in January 1998.  It is directly under the control Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas as a self-regulatory industry agency for safety matters & procedures in the Hydrocarbon sector. It is headed by the Secretary of the ministry as chairman. The Safety Council is assisted by OISD. The latest review of the safety performance was held in 2020, which is the 37th Safety Council meeting. 

An exhaustive review by SC regarding the Barge-305 incident during Cyclone Tauktae in May 2021. 

As highlighted earlier, one of the key issues the Standing Committee report looked at was the mishap that occurred to an ONGC installation on the Western coast offshore during Cyclone Taukate in May 2021. 

The Western offshore was hit by Cyclone Taukate during 16-17 May 2021, the severity which was unprecedented for the Western Offshore. An emergency arose on 17 May 2021 when Barge-305, deployed by M/S Afcons informed that it lost its anchors and was drifting towards the HS-wellhead platform. ONGC and the Indian Navy responded to the situation. ONGC diverted all the Multi-purpose Supply Vehicles (MSVs) and Offshore Support Vehicles (OSVs), and the Indian Navy directed INS Kochi for the rescue. Despite reaching the earliest, the unfavourable weather situation prevented any immediate rescue measures by INS Kochi. 

A total of 188 persons on the barge were rescued by the Indian Navy and by ONGC vehicles. As for the Barge P-305, it initially reported starboard side damage resulting in tilting on one side. It eventually sank. There were 86 victims and 9 were reported as missing. 

The Committee conducted an enquiry about the incident, to which the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas and ONGC furnished responses.  A few of the key questions of the Committee were related to: 

  • The actual incident and the response of ONGC 
  • Details of the Rescue operation 
  • The assistance from the Navy and the delay in obtaining their help 
  • Details of the information obtained forecasting the emergency – Weather bulletin, ONGC advisories, information from agencies including Navy & Coast guard, etc. The action was taken in processing this information. 
  • Co-ordination of various agencies in rescue efforts 
  • Availability of lifeboats, rafts, and other evacuation details as per the standard procedures. Availability of Inspection reports of such infrastructure. 
  • Training and readiness of personnel by ONGC in anticipation of such emergencies. 
  • Communication between Barge P-305 and ONGC Emergency Response Centre.  

The Committee also sought responses on the role of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). 

Findings of the Internal Committee constituted by ONGC 

The Standing Committee further sought details of the internal Committee constituted by ONGC. The Major findings of the Internal Committee about the barge P-305 disaster are: 

  • Weather forecast:  There is a robust and established system of weather forecasting and dissemination. 
  • The Barge – 305 did not handle the anchors and has drifted to complete the balance work without assessing the risk to persons on board.  Risk assessment was not carried out for the expected situation during cyclone Tauktae. 
  • The barge was unable to reach the sheeted water due to delayed action on part of the contractor. 

The following recommendations were made by the internal committee based on its findings: 

  • While there are no perceivable gaps in the established weather forecast systems, the committee recommended better information dissemination to installations, rigs, vessels, etc. along with necessary action. It opined that this ought to be carried out by Head Offshore Safety and Marine Safety cell. 
  • With respect to the barges, the committee recommended that during such cyclonic weather, barges should not be anchored in ONGC’s field but ought to be moved to sheltered waters. Marine Operations Manual needs to be updated accordingly. 
  • All the barges, and vessels including support vessels to be fitted with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) for better position monitoring and movement in an operational area. 
  • The methodology for hiring and approving barges is to be reviewed. 
  • Marine Operation Manual, Bridging Documents, etc. to be reviewed to deal with such extraordinary emergency scenarios. 

Standing Committee has proposed reforms to enhance Safety in the Indian Offshore area 

The following are some of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee based on the responses by the Ministry & ONGC. 

  • Availability of location-specific weather forecasts for the offshore platforms based on specific weather platforms would aid better understanding and decision making. 
  • Better communication mechanism for dissemination of information received. 
  • Updating of Emergency Response Plan (ERP) with specific details of the action to be taken in case of emergencies.  ERP to cover various emergency situations. 
  • Enhancing capabilities of monitoring vessels on the coast of India and at Indian Offshore Oil Fields. 
  • Establish a control centre which has vessel movement data for better tracking in event of a cyclone. 
  • Contracts to be reviewed to ensure liability is spread between the Operator and the Contractors. 
  • Analysis that would identify the limiting weather conditions on the vessels that are moored. 
  • Regulations and guidelines to be followed regarding the useful life of life-saving appliances. 
  • Professional and survival training to be provided to personnel working at different levels. 

Apart from ONGC, where the emergency occurred, the Standard Committee has also reviewed the safety & security levels in various other installations relating to the Oil & Gas industry – Onshore Oil & Gas Installations including pipelines installations, Offshore Oil & Gas Installations, Cyber Security across these installations, etc. 

A few of the key recommendations made by the Standing Committee regarding the Safety & Security measure for the Oil & Gas Industry include: 

  • Need for periodic review of Safety measures in the Petroleum Sector. 
  • Enquiry into ONGC selecting Skymet for its weather forecasting services. 
  • Need for filling up vacancies in Senior Levels in ONGC. 
  • Legislations for Offshore vehicles 
  • Need for collaboration between IMD & ONGC in Weather forecasting. 
  • Need for having a Single Safety-agency for the Petroleum sector. 
  • Safety & Inspection of Vessels and fixing up of accountability of the inspection. 
  • Replacement of old cranes in Offshore installations. 
  • Need for strict verification of the documents. 

Featured Image: Standing Committee Report on Petroleum & Natural Gas

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