Managing safety is important every day, but the year 2020 has plagued the oil and gas industry with challenges. The onset of COVID-19, coupled with the record free fall of prices, left oil and gas personnel frantically searching for answers while recovering from this shocking new life. Although historical, this reality’s effects are nothing new to the world of HSE, a term representing health, safety, and environmental components of the industry.
HSE departments throughout the energy sector recognize the profession’s cyclical nature. With every change encountered, ranging from an economic downturn to global disruption, HSE departments find themselves on the front lines of budget cutbacks and reduction in force. The question of why is continually pondered, yet easily answered.
No income is generated by HSE departments. In the world of economic and health uncertainty, the bottom line is even more precarious than ever. A certain survival instinct prevails, and meeting the everyday demand takes the front seat. Managing safety is not bypassed with dangerous behavior dominating, but the dollar earned overshadows the dollar saved. It mirrors a young family struggling to financially survive while postponing saving for the future.
HSE departments respond in a variety of ways while the proverbial savings account is temporarily abandoned. While the effects are similar, both E&P companies and energy service companies have similarly responded to challenges.
Craig DeVillier, SSU Technician with Equinor’s Bakken Formation office, identifies the most significant change to Equinor’s HSE department as a reduction in force. Areas of coverage were previously divided up among team members. Responding to budget cutbacks, Equinor still divides those areas up, but with less personnel covering the territory.
“It makes for a lot more windshield time,” said DeVillier. He noted that adapting to that decrease has prompted creative thinking. Although budgets have been slashed, the demand is still ever-present. As a result, a more streamlined focus was developed to meet HSE needs. “Now, we collaborate in the mornings to identify high-risk activities for the day,” he said. “If we have a critical lift or an energy isolation, we make sure we go see that when it is scheduled.”
DeVillier said Equinor’s new methods of ensuring workplace safety have not been compromising. In fact, he identified a positive outcome while still acknowledging his concern and regret for those who have encountered job loss. “It has forced everyone to take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others on location,” he said.
Oil and gas service companies have not declared immunity to new ways of monitoring and maintaining safety. According to James Wallington, HSE Technician with Total Safety’s Permian and Delaware Basin Departments, the world energy market’s upset had a two-fold effect on his employer. “Not only did we see a reduction in force,” said Wallington, “but a lot of people who were able to keep their jobs saw decreased wages and a decrease in available hours.”
Wallington said it was a jolt when industry leaders began stacking rigs after determining drilling operations were no longer feasible. Combatting maneuvers for this economic attack came in the form of creativity. “With the close of one service came another,” said Wallington, noting that Total Safety retained a percentage of their personnel by offering new services. With COVID-19 wreaking havoc, they responded by training personnel and offering screening services. Like a modern-day Industrial Revolution, Total Safety implemented the screening service within the oilfield industry, and countrywide as well.
Being a veteran oilfield employee, Wallington stated downturns in the oil and gas industry are frequent, should be expected, and occur due to a variety of reasons. “We should be looking to the future because something like this will happen again,” said Wallington. “We should be preparing for the future to secure jobs and reserve funds.” Wallington suggested employee savings programs and the banking of hours. This could serve as supplemental or reserve funds to maintain long-term employment.
Although the world energy market is complex, oilfield businesses continue to prove during every slump they possess creative minds and innovative spirits to discover new and effective methods to succeed. As those forward thinkers continue to persevere and conduct business, HSE will be tasked with matching that ability to adapt and manage safety guaranteed in the workplace.
About the author: Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. In addition to providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with eight years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and follows and photographs American Kennel Club field and herding trials. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188 [email protected].