Unsung professionals putting safety first

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

In December the Forties pipeline system was closed, as a precaution, following the detection of a hairline crack just south of Aberdeen.

As a result, 40% of North Sea oil and gas production was shut in, and the media’s attention understandably focussed on supply impacts, prices at forecourts, and the wider market.

But that is not the full story. Look behind the headlines and there are skilled professionals working day in, day out, often in very challenging conditions, to keep our energy system safe.

In this case, although the root cause of the crack was still under investigation at the time of the writing, technicians and engineers worked in sub-zero winter weather to assess the damage, prevent any danger of oil and gas release into the local environment, and set about repair.

Thankfully, in the final days of 2017, the pipeline owner Ineos announced that repair work and pressure testing had been completed, and the system had been returned to full functioning order.

For me, this story hits home the often unsung role of energy professionals. Before any of the commercial interests that influence our industry, we find their skills and dedication guarding the real bottom line – health, safety and environmental protection.

The Energy Institute has over the decades been central to supporting the development and recognition of individual professionals; to building the body of the health, safety and environment guidance used by the sector, and to the training that helps improve practices across the industry.

Looking back over 2017, we produced more than 50 technical guidance documents – more than any previous year – helping ensure installations offshore and on are safely operated and maintained. And, as oil and gas installations in the North Sea and elsewhere near the end of their lives, our work on asset integrity and corrosion will play a vital role in their responsible decommissioning.

But there is even more to the EI’s role and ambition in the fast changing world of energy.

Around 20,000 individual members see EI accreditation as the key to a successful career, in 120 countries, across the entire energy system.

As the international community’s determination to shift towards a low carbon economy has intensified, the EI has focused on transferring its expertise and activities into the new, low carbon technologies needed to keep global temperature increases within 2C of pre-industrial levels.

You are now as likely to find EI members working in energy efficiency, low carbon finance or offshore wind, as in oil as gas.

We are home to the G+ Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation, working with nine of the biggest players to promote and maintain the highest possible standards of health and safety throughout the life cycle of offshore wind farms.

This coming year we turn our attention to energy storage, one of the most critical technologies needed to support the decarbonisation of the energy system, with guidance for battery storage operators covering fire safety, maintenance risks, disposal, and working with local planning authorities.

And we will continue to extend the international reach of our health and safety expertise, with a second health and safety forum being hosted in October in the Middle East.

Safety is paramount

Health and safety is paramount to our industry. Whatever energy sources or technologies they operate in, energy companies have a duty of care to their workforces, the wider public and the natural environment. Shareholders, too, have a heightened interest in the very best standards of operation.

There is a premium on ensuring energy supplies to the public and wider economy are maintained in line with standards, guidance and expertise developed independently, at arms length, insulated from any suspicion of commercial influence or interest.

That is what the EI has always been here for and it is why more and more energy players, from conventional oil and gas through to the most innovative renewable and smart energy technologies, see collaboration with us as central to their health and safety strategies.

Postscript

As I write the close of this column, severe snow storms have for the second time this winter hit the UK, interrupting power supplies to tens of thousands of homes. And I am once again reminded of the individuals working in the harshest of conditions to restore supplies safely and securely to the public, and proud of the Energy Institute’s role in this profession.

This blog first appeared as an article for the Feb 2018 edition of Petroleum Review.

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