BP Atlantis data threat

Advocacy group, Food and Water Watch claims engineering documentation on Gulf of Mexico facility ‘inadequate for safe operations.’ Attack highlights potential upstream data ‘Achilles heel.’

Action this month by US consumer advocacy group, ‘Food & Water Watch’ (FWW) highlights what might prove to be the oil industry’s data ‘Achilles heel,’ with the charge that BP’s ‘Atlantis’ Gulf of Mexico production facility ‘lacks the documentation needed for safe operations and maintenance.’ FWW has asked the regulator, the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to ‘immediately suspend production’ on the facility, one of the largest in the world, pending ‘further investigation of documents critical to the project’s safe operation and maintenance.’

BP Atlantis has been operating for over a year but still, according to FWW, lacks ‘a large percentage of engineer-approved and up-to-date documents for its subsea equipment.’ FWW has also written to Secretary Ken Salazar and the MMS Director Liz Birnbaum calling for ‘a complete investigation [to] prevent a catastrophic failure.’

FWW executive director Wenonah Hauter said, ‘We are concerned that the lack of final, engineer-approved documentation may mean that the platform has serious design problems [that could] increase the risk of operator errors and harm to workers, the environment and local fishing communities.’

FWW staff attorney Zach Corrigan told Oil IT Journal ‘A whistleblower inside BP provided us with a database that we have had validated by an independent engineer. We are working with the whistleblower’s attorney to see how much of this data we can make public.’ FWW’s analysis of the leaked data suggests that Atlantis is lacking approved ‘issued for design,’ ‘issued for construction,’ and ‘as built’ subsea piping and instrument diagrams (P&IDs). Such ‘incomplete documentation’ could lead to ‘a catastrophic error’ on the platform, located 240km off the Louisiana coast and vulnerable to hurricanes.

Hauter commented, ‘BP prides itself on being a progressive, green company and it should do everything in its power to ensure its largest facility is fail-safe. Given the risks of operating without this documentation, we urge MMS to launch an immediate investigation.’

BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell told Oil IT Journal, ‘We have reviewed the allegations made by FWW and have found no evidence to substantiate the organization’s claims with respect to Atlantis project documentation. BP has complied with MMS regulations requiring compiling and retaining ‘as built’ drawings for the project, and has provided documentation as requested by the MMS.’

‘Atlantis was designed and built to meet BP and global industry engineering standards, including review and approval of project design and construction procedures by professional engineers. The engineering documents for Atlantis have the appropriate approvals and platform personnel have access to the information they need for the safe operation of the facility. The Atlantis field has been in service since October 2007 and has safely produced more than 50 million barrels of oil. The platform was successfully maintained through the course of two major hurricanes in 2008. Its safety, operations and performance record is excellent.’

Comment—Speakers at document and data conferences across the upstream, from geoscience to construction, have bemoaned the parlous state of their data and the difficulty of getting adequate resources for its management. Some have forecast exposure to regulatory risks and non compliance ‘issues.’

Many companies are struggling to address the problem of maintaining up-to-date engineering documentation across the complex design, build and commission life cycle of the modern offshore facility. Whatever the outcome, the FWW case will be music to the ears of engineering document management software vendors!

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