Oil and gas industry operators say safety improvements a priority

10:11 am | October 30th, 2014

Article from NewsOK.com

As the oil and natural gas industry continues to expand operations throughout Oklahoma and the region, operators say they are facing an increasing need to improve safety, both for their employees and for the public and environment throughout the area.

“Safety is a mindset,” Keith White, director of environment, health and safety at Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy Inc., said Tuesday during the Midcontinent Industry Summit in Oklahoma City. “To change a paradigm is not an easy process. Safety issues are just like a chain. The weakest link is always going to be cause of a problem in the future.”

Rejecting risk

For a company to become safer, the focus must be embraced from employees at all levels, he said.

“They want to go home in the same shape they came to work,” White said. “If the first-line or middle-line manager has the mentality that production is the primary focus, it takes an education process for them to learn that production can be hurt by an accident. The whole process stops. With the cost of cleanup and repairs and possible litigation, it’s actually more efficient to look at safety and operating on a safe manner than it is just to focus on production.”

Operating safely can be more expensive, but companies increasingly are understanding the benefit, said Brett McWilliams, district manager for Total Safety.

“It’s not cheap, but if you have an issue that is potentially life-threatening, how can you not spend the money?” he said. “How can you not say you want to keep the people who work for you safe?”

Companies also are doing a better job of working with local first responders and nearby operators to address potential problems more quickly, said Jillian Robles, supervisor of incident management and the business continuity program at Devon Energy Corp.

“The time to exchange business cards is not during the incident itself,” she said. “Having an emergency response number is important, but having established relationships beforehand helps the entire process.”

Shared benefits

While large and midsized companies in many ways are leading the effort to increase safety throughout the industry, their work also is benefiting the smaller companies, said Don Unruh, exploration manager at Tulsa-based Sullivan and Co.

“The vendors we use drive safety programs into their operations, so that very naturally spreads out to everyone they work with,” Unruh said. “It’s easy to let safety equipment wane over time, but if you’re going to provide services to a major oil company, they’re going to insist that you bring it up to state-of-the-art technology. We really have been benefiting from that greatly in Oklahoma because we have a robust level of activity that’s keeping us at the cutting edge. We have cutting-edge technology available to us even though we are a very small operator.”

Safety is a mindset. To change a paradigm is not an easy process. Safety issues are just like a chain. The weakest link is always going to be cause of a problem in the future.”

Keith White,
Director of environment, health and safety at Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy Inc.