The Risks to Fixed Offshore Assets
All fixed subsea and surface assets, such as pipelines and offshore platforms, are at risk of nearby vessels impacting them. There are three primary reasons a vessel could threaten an asset:
- Complacency – An approaching vessel’s crew might lack situational awareness because of an inadequate watch team, out-of-date charts, or failures of navigational systems.
- Mechanical failure – The vessel may have lost propulsion or steering, resulting in the vessel drifting into an asset or dragging an anchor across a submerged structure.
- Criminal intent – The vessel may have targeted an asset to attack or sabotage it.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in its 2016 annual report that there were nine collisions in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf during that fiscal year including vessel allisions with fixed assets. There was an average of 17 collisions per year over the 10-year period that the report covered and just under 13 of those were defined as major collisions resulting in property or equipment damage greater than $25,000.
Risk mitigation requires early detection of factors that can lead to an imminent impact with an asset. A common practice for operators on manned platforms is to set a radar range limit or guard ring around an asset to alert them when vessels are coming within a specified distance. This approach can lead to many false radar alarms, desensitizing watch teams to the point that they either disable alarms or simply do not pay attention to them. As a result, platform operators are blind to imminent threats until it is too late to preempt a collision. A secondary problem with radar guard rings is that they do not factor in the speed of the approaching vessel. As a result, these guard rings are frequently too small for the timely alerting of fast-approaching vessels, or so large that watch-standers are overwhelmed with false alarms.
Aircraft are another tool currently used to mitigate risk for asset owners. Overflights of pipelines and other unmanned structures are required every few weeks, but these efforts are often reactive and can only reveal the consequences of an impact. Overflights can also identify nearby operations or construction activities that could pose a risk.
In the event of new construction or repair activities to offshore or nearshore assets, the adjacent vessel activity will require contractors to play a role in risk mitigation through 811 tickets which must be submitted prior to digging or impacting the sea floor. Unfortunately, this is usually only enforced in nearshore waters and the mandate is not always followed. Also, navigational charts are not always updated and as a result, may not always reflect subsea infrastructure.
More Effective Risk Mitigation Strategies for Marine Asset Protection
Many operators use a traditional combination of onsite hardware to monitor vessel AIS data, along with radar, cameras, weather monitors, VHF communications, and other data that are relevant to each individual asset. An increasingly popular risk mitigation approach is to leverage an organization’s existing AIS-based vessel-tracking tool and to incorporate additional location specific real-time data from the various asset sites into a common operational view. This is especially effective when there are multiple assets in a common region. These tools can be used not only to track vessel locations for day-to-day logistical management, but also to give operators a clear and more holistic picture of how vessels are interacting with or potentially impacting each asset. This collaborative, web-based approach facilitates centralized risk monitoring, provides analytical reporting tools and access to historical data and enables operators to configure and issue automated alerts based on predetermined parameters associated with each asset’s unique risk profile. These alerts can be configured so they are only triggered when multiple criteria have been met; for instance, when a vessel reaches a given speed or arrives at the closest permitted point of approach combined with such parameters as the type of vessel, current weather conditions, and other detailed criteria.
Mitigation strategies must be developed based on a site specific assessment of each asset’s risk profile including factors such as regional security concerns, weather patterns, and sea conditions, as well as the characteristics of local shipping lanes and traffic from vessels that are supporting nearby operations.
An optimal starting point is to audit how the operations team currently monitors, assesses, mitigates, and measures the risk of vessels impacting their assets. As they evaluate their existing process and data sources, the organization will be able to determine whether it has all the data necessary to fully and accurately represent the risks threatening its assets. For example, the radar that the organization selects might be different if it needs to track a fast-approaching vessel that is a security risk vs. a typical merchant vessel or tanker in a nearby shipping lane. An assessment should also be made of the organization’s existing ability to document, analyze and act on this data. In general, four key elements are necessary for a successful risk mitigation process:
- Access to the necessary data for each defined risk
- A monitoring platform that can combine all data sources into a shared display and issue customized alerts
- A clearly defined set of risk assessment and mitigation procedures
- A properly trained staff for validating risks and initiating mitigating actions.
An intelligent monitoring solution can be configured to filter out false alarms so that only alerts related to relevant threats are assessed. The costs associated with transmitting data from remote locations have decreased significantly in recent years. For the first time, many disparate datasets are being aggregated and transported to shore. With centralized visualization and actionable intelligence, watch teams have everything they need to know in order to remotely monitor infrastructure and make early recommendations for avoiding incidents.
Asset Monitoring Intelligence Center (AMIC)
Production and drilling crews have many duties, operational concerns and other challenges that require attention in a busy control room. Too often, the job of monitoring approaching vessels is not at the top of their priority list. Teams may also not be as familiar with radar settings and other standard navigational systems that are used to monitor vessel traffic. Even if the tools and processes have been standardized throughout the operation, these skills may vary from one team member to another or from asset to asset, thus reducing the overall consistency, accuracy, and effectiveness of how risks are assessed and mitigated across all assets.
The most effective solution for this problem is through a dedicated, centrally located team with access to collaborative monitoring tools that enable them to mitigate risk across a large number of global assets. Establishing dedicated teams also solves the problems of inconsistent experience, training, and focus priorities. The members of a centrally located Asset Monitoring Intelligence Center (AMIC) can be trained to understand each asset’s specific risk profile and develop procedures in order to ensure optimal use of the monitoring system. These centralized teams can quickly interpret vessel movements and triggered alarms to determine whether there is an actual risk and how to respond.
An oil and gas company operating multiple platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Trinidad has chosen to have a shore-side team communicate risks to its offshore crews one hour before any vessel appears to be passing within the designated safe passing distance. Another major oil company took this same approach upon acquisition of waterborne assets in the Gulf of Mexico. The company recognized the threat that vessel activities posed to its pipelines, and adopted the use of asset protection technology to enhance its awareness of these risks. Like many operators, the company’s lean staff was managing a growing volume of inbound data, and so it turned to a third-party, centralized monitoring team to act as a first line of defense for 24/7 evaluation of marine vessel activity and to ensure that only actionable issues needed its organization’s attention.
In these and other examples, centralized monitoring teams give organizations the right amount of focus on multiple risks; a better way of managing information about these risks; opportunities to uncover patterns, gaps, and new risks; and new risk mitigation approaches.
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