The Weekly Reflektion Week 45 / 2019

This week we are reflecting over the petroleum industry’s attitude towards learning and considers two recent major projects in Norway.

Johan Sverdrup
Martin Linge

Do we learn because we have to, because we think we should or because we really want to?

Following any incident or accident, and in particular incidents and accidents that have significant consequences, there is an investigation to find out what happened and why it happened. The stated aim of the investigation is usually to learn and apply the learning to prevent incidents and accidents happening in the future. When the consequences are loss of life, significant environmental impact and/or destruction of material there is a drive from the industry and authorities to carry out an investigation and an expectation from the public and politicians that this is done. The learning from these accidents and incidents are often used to update regulations and standards. Consider the investigations into the Sea Gem disaster (UK) in December 1969, the Ekofisk Bravo blowout (Norway) in April 1977, Alexander Kielland disaster (Norway) in March 1980 and the Piper Alpha disaster (UK) in July 1988.  The recommendations from these investigations led to significant changes in the UK and Norwegian regulations and a safer industry today. The industry learned because it had to.

Most companies have systems in place to capture lessons learned and some of these companies also have processes that actually apply the learning. There are often good intentions with the learning however, the learning process often stops at the registering of lessons learned. Learning has trouble leaping the gap between the different silos that make up an organisation. Despite the challenges the companies do seem to believe that they should learn.

In 2012 the Plan for Development and Operations (PDO) for the Martin Linge development was approved by the Norwegian Parliament. The selected concept was an integrated production and quarters facility on a steel jacket and a permanently moored tanker for oil storage and loading. Martin Linge is still not in production and costs are already NOK 17.4 billion higher than the PDO estimate.

In 2015 the PDO for the Johan Sverdrup development was approved by the Norwegian Parliament. The field was to be developed in two phases and the selected concept for the first phase was a field centre with a quarters platform, a process platform, a drilling platform and a riser platform. Production from the Johan Sverdrup field started in October 2019 and the cost for phase 1 was about NOK 40 billion less than the PDO.

No-one seems to be calling for an investigation into the Martin Linge challenges and the Johan Sverdrup success. The consequences are not loss of life, significant environmental impact and/or destruction of material so there is no public outcry. Since no one is asking, it is unlikely that the reasons for the contrast between these projects will be known and the lessons will not be learned. There will of course be some internal investigations within the respective companies and there is always the rumour mill to give some indications of what went wrong and what went right. The people involved will of course have their own experiences to learn from and hopefully apply to future projects. It seems the industry as a whole is not interested in investigating these projects and hence does not really want to learn.

Reflekt’s first breakfast seminar in April 2018 was titled ‘Line in the Sand’. We presented the ‘Formula 1 story’ and the efforts from the stakeholders in Formula 1 to prevent driver fatalities following the tragic death of Ayton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994. We showed how fatalities were significantly reduced, the management focus to achieve this and how learning was applied across the companies. Mark Gallagher, who was working in the management in one of the manufacturers and was involved in these efforts, made a statement that has inspired us in our work in prevention of Major Accident.

‘if you want to swim in success you want to avoid having islands of excellence in oceans of mediocrity’

As an industry, we need to learn from our failures and we need to learn from our successes. If we really want to learn then we need to take the initiative ourselves and not just respond to external expectations and requirements. We need to really learn from each other if we want success across our industry.

Reflekt AS