Engineers and geologists often use different assessment methods to ensure all barriers are met for well containment. These models take into account risk and mitigation practices, ensuring a well is constructed and operated in a safe manner, adhering to necessary design standards, in an effort to avoid potential containment loss. One method that we will focus on is referred to as the “Bowtie Method of Risk Assessment and Mitigation.” Several large companies within the oil and gas industry follow these methods to a tee for safe operational standards, such as the Royal Dutch Shell Group, one of the largest players in the Gulf of Mexico. However, there are also several other risk mitigation methods such as the Swiss Cheese Model of Accident and Causation that we will also touch on.
Bowtie Model of Risk Assessment and Mitigation
The Bowtie Method is a risk evaluation method of looking at potential causes and corresponding consequences from both sides of the event, similar to that of a bowtie. In identifying the causes and consequences of an event, the bowtie method is essentially an action plan that includes risk identification, assessment of human barriers (training, documentation, preparedness) and hardware barriers (detection systems, blowout preventers), in order to lay out procedures with a “defense-in-depth-strategy.” A defense-in-depth strategy ensures an event does not take place, by integrative use of various barriers such as hardware and human. This approach allows for more precise identification of potential risks, and methods for suppressing such risks. The method must be taken into account and followed by the various players of a wellsite, including management, operators, engineers, geologists, etc.
Royal Dutch Shell Group (Shell) was one of the first large companies in the oil and gas industry to initially utilize the Bowtie Method. Shell’s primary motivation was the necessity of ensuring that appropriate risk barriers were in place throughout all worldwide operations. Because of their inherently larger and more dispersed organization, major operators must have a thorough company-wide plan set in place to mitigate risks of their high level of activity. As a result of this need, Shell adopted the Bowtie Method, and many other companies within the industry have since followed the same path. The figure below shows an example of Bowtie Model to showcase the various hazards and barriers in place on the Deepwater Horizon rig that, when breached, led to disastrous consequences once hydrocarbons had entered the riser.
Swiss Cheese Model of Accident and Causation
Similar to the Bowtie Method, the Swiss Cheese Model makes use of more than one barrier to prevent hazards and a potential event from occurring, such as a blowout or gas fire. Swiss cheese is used as the representation, where the holes in the cheese represent the ability of hazards to pass through the system. However, if there is more than one layer, those holes are likely to be plugged or stopped by the additional layer (the holes won’t line up). Just as the Bowtie Method includes hardware and human barriers, those barriers represent the “layers of cheese,” within the model. Other layers, or otherwise known as barriers, include equipment, processes, etc.
Two barriers are the minimum generally required when applying the Swiss Cheese Model; however, the more layers, the more prepared for possible risks and consequences. Again, similar to the Bowtie Method, this model entails a defense-in-depth strategy, with use of both hardware and human disaster prevention.
Swiss Cheese Model of Accident and Causation Practice Problem
Now that we have a foundation for the Swiss Cheese Model, let’s apply it to a “real world” scenario below.
A new non-major company has recently begun exploring the Gulf of Mexico for drilling operations and they want to implement the Swiss Cheese Model of Accident and Causation to mitigate any plausible risks during drilling operations and production. They are currently assessing how many barriers to use that would result in the least amount of risk. At some point adding barriers may cost money, but not significantly reduce risk. The risks they are most worried about include failure of blowout preventers given they are currently operating in deepwater blocks that have historically encompassed highly pressurized reservoirs.
Hint: You will learn more about blowout preventers in the following lessons. However, for a brief introduction the purpose of a blowout preventer is to cap a well before flow out of the well becomes uncontrolled if hydrocarbons were to unanticipatedly enter the wellbore during drilling operations (production has not yet begun and the crew does not want hydrocarbons flowing up the wellbore yet). There are various types of blowout preventers that are used and you can explore items #30-34 on the drilling rig interactive to learn more about them.
Currently, the company has calculated the probability of failure to the blowout preventer for the three separate barriers they will use including:
- Human Barriers
- Equipment Barriers (often referred to as “hardware barriers”) and
- Monitoring Barriers.
Shown below is the probability of an event to occur (=associated risk) with each barrier. Using simple multiplication, multiply the probability of an event occurring within each barrier to assess the probability that an event will occur throughout the entire system.
|Human Barrier||Equipment Barrier||Monitoring Barrier|
0.15 risk of failure
0.01 risk of failure
0.14 risk of failure