6 ways to keep rigs safe in high-risk countries

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor

Operating drilling rigs in high-risk countries means drilling contractors have to take into account security scenarios that may not be common in other places. In Yemen, for example, kidnapping of crew buses is a common scenario that must be considered.
Operating drilling rigs in high-risk countries means drilling contractors have to take into account security scenarios that may not be common in other places. In Yemen, for example, kidnapping of crew buses is a common scenario that must be considered.

For drilling companies that operate only in North America or Europe, they likely don’t make considerations for what actions to take if their rig crew gets kidnapped while trying to get to the rig site or going home after a tour. However, if you’re going to drill in Yemen, then you had better make those preparations.

“The most common security scenario in Yemen is crew buses getting kidnapped. You lose your whole rig crew at shift change,” said Lachlan Simpkins, who was business development director – Middle East and Central Asia for international security company Erinys at the time of interview for this article. He is now HSSE manager for Talisman Energy based in Papua New Guinea.

Mr Simpkins has worked around the world in high- or extreme-risk environments such as Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, North Africa and southern Thailand. Besides bus kidnappings, other common security scenarios he’s seen include rigs getting hit by RPG rounds or employees driving over land mines or unexploded ordnance. “You might also have a labor issue that could become a security-related incident. With some tribes, their negotiation skills can be very different from the Western approach. A situation can escalate quickly,” he said.

As drilling activities start to pick up in Iraq and as oil companies look to harvest the world’s remaining hydrocarbons regardless where the reservoirs are, security is becoming a larger consideration for drilling companies.

Here are six things drilling contractors can do to have a safer and more secure drilling operation in high- and extreme-risk environments:

1. Do a threat and vulnerability assessment

This is one of the most important steps a company can take before entering a high-risk country, Mr Simpkins said. It defines the security-related threats on personnel and assets on both a strategic and tactical level, and the social, political and economic issues of the country are assessed. “Then you look at the actual concession, the oilfield where the rig will operate, and determine where your business processes, personnel and assets are most vulnerable,” he added.

ISO’s risk management standard, ISO 31000: 2009, should be used to conduct this assessment.

2. Know your risk treatment options

Primarily, this means putting policies and procedures in place that define the responsibilities of the corporation and employees. It also involves writing a security manual, then implementing training, such as crisis management training. “It’s important to run crisis management training because there’s no time during a crisis to learn how to do it. Everyone on your crisis management team has to already know their roles and responsibilities, so if a crisis happens, they know what they have to do and get on with it,” Mr Simpkins said.

Drills for security scenarios – such as bus kidnappings – should also be run. In a high-risk environment, a company might run drills every quarter or every six months. “People change, situations change. It’s important to stay abreast of it,” he said. On the other hand, in extreme-risk places, drills may not have to be run that often “because they’re actually dealing with a real-life crisis every month.”

3. Get host nation support

The level of support a company can expect from the host nation varies wildly. “In Saudi Arabia, there’s very good host nation support, for example. They have a special oilfield protection force and the Saudi army. They have a very robust structure that other places like Iraq and Yemen don’t have,” Mr Simpkins said. “You have to develop host nation support from the Ministry of Oil, Ministry of Interior or even Ministry of Defense. Someone has to go establish those relationships,” he continued.

This might be done through a local national with whom the drilling company builds a relationship. He should be well versed in the social issues of his country to provide advice to the drilling company.

On top of that, another level of local support is needed. “A significant component of a security program is engagement with the local community. You have to ‘go over the berm,’ ” Mr Simpkins said. In the Middle East where rig sites are often in deserts, a berm is a sand wall pushed up around the rig site as a form of access control. “You need to hire local nationals to work on the rig. You might hire security guards or source foodstuffs or laundry services… You give them jobs, give them a future,” he said.

4. Ensure your personnel have awareness

“Sometimes people go into a country with no idea about its social customs or political situation,” Mr Simpkins said. A rig site is often a multinational environment where tribal or religious influences can affect the drilling operation. “I don’t think you need a great level of training, but there has to be a level of awareness.”

As foreign companies hire local nationals and give them training to move into positions of higher authority, different regions may require different considerations. For example, if a Yemeni is promoted to rig manager or driller, he can’t go to work on a rig in another tribal area in Yemen, Mr Simpkins said. “He can’t tell the rig hands what to do because he’s from another tribe. For his career to progress, he may have to leave his country and go drill in Algeria or Libya.”

Awareness is also needed of local infrastructure – what’s there and not there. “Some companies send employees to locations, and they don’t know how to get from the airport to the hotel,” Mr Simpkins said. Or there may be problems with accessing the supply chain, for equipment and critical items like foodstuffs. In a country like Iraq, this would be an especially critical consideration.

5. Find the disconnects

On any given day, there may be representatives from a half-dozen or more companies, each with their own security programs. “Armed security guards from six different companies can turn up, and no one has any control of them. The drilling contractor has to make sure these groups are all coordinated,” Mr Simpkins said. In addition to guards, there may be government soldiers on the rig, or local policemen or militants over the berm. “There are a lot of layers of disconnects and potential flash points that must be considered,” he warned.

6. Manage risk tolerance

In some high-risk areas, local nationals may have developed a higher threshold for risk due to the nature of their environment. They might not understand why a Western company wants so many protective measures. “The host nation may get indignant because there’s a Western company accusing them that they can’t look after you when they think there’s nothing to look after.”

With local rig workers, their higher levels of risk tolerance may mean they don’t understand all the safety concerns a Western company has. “There may need to be training on why they have to wear gloves, or why they need to bend their knees when they pick something up. These are cultural and social issues that have to be negotiated, and a level of trust has to be developed.”

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