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Full alarm visibility is among the most important things operators have to achieve for smooth day-to-day operations and to organize and manage a flood of information. Not following oil and gas alarm management best practices can lead to operator fatigue, gaps in investigations, poor response times, and even shutdowns, injuries or death. This article will help operators avoid these issues and gain control of operations with optimal alarm management practices.

The unique alarm management requirements for oil and gas

The oil and gas industry employs over 10 million workers and accounts for 8% of the US GDP, and it operates both onshore and offshore. The dispersed scope, complexity and criticality of the oil and gas industry demand rapid, accurate alarm notifications and swift problem resolution.

Challenges of the oil and gas sector

Many oil and gas producers use inefficient and ineffective alarm systems plagued with nuisance alarms and chatter, resulting in operator overload. Mistakes can be costly and even fatal. At the same time, root cause analytics are often deficient. The rapid definition and timely solution of problems are hamstrung.

The rise of distributed control systems (DCS) has helped to mitigate many of those issues. A DCS is a decentralized control system architecture that divides the control load among an array of intelligent and autonomous smart devices and sensors, leading to greater efficiency and response time.

A DCS uses control logic to automate and give operators a view into the process. Given the complexity and scope of oil and gas operations, a DCS is essential. At the same time, a DCS has its own set of requirements to be effective:

  • Adequate bandwidth for 100% availability to prevent loss of data.
  • Strong system infrastructure, communication capability, and historical data storage capabilities.
  • A backup system with automatic switchover to prevent data loss in case of primary system failure.

Oil and gas alarm management

The DCS multiplies data streams

While solving many problems, a DCS also introduces an additional layer of intricacies, with multiple and sometimes unique distributed systems producing many large streams of data from diverse sources. Thus, the analysis needed to achieve effective distributed oil and gas alarm management becomes more difficult.

TiPs LogMate offers features that complement DCS and address these issues

Alarm management as a pillar of safety

Because of the risks associated with extracting volatile hydrocarbons on land and sea, safety is a matter of life and death. Sound alarm management is the basis of process safety management. Achieving excellence requires focused effort to follow a disciplined, set process. Because of the complexity of oil and gas alarm management, technology is a must to keep time and resource expenditure acceptable.

Best practices require a disciplined process

To foster great alarm management, it is essential to follow a clear set of steps:

  • Because of the cross-functional nature of alarm management, it pays to use a program management organization to ensure proper validation and approvals along the way. Organizations should make sure that operations, production, environmental and safety functions are represented for buy-in and knowledge mining.
  • Develop an alarm philosophy – Where does the organization want to be with alarm management for their unique company needs? The team should document and use this as guiding principles for the next steps.
  • Get all alarm data into one database.
  • Perform alarm diagnostics. The team must review and document symptoms of dysfunction in the alarm systems – alarm floods, deactivated alarms and other issues.
  • Compare the results of diagnostics to an industry standard – for example, the Engineering Equipment and Materials Users Association Publication 191 as a benchmark of acceptability.
  • Get rid of unnecessary alarms right away to clean up the working database.
  • If there is still a material gap between the current situation and the standard, rationalize the alarm management program.

Now the heavy-lifting analysis can begin.

The team should perform a deep dive into the cause of problems surfaced in diagnostics. What are the root causes of alarm floods and other issues? Clear documentation here is crucial.

Next, the team must take steps for improvement to complete alarm rationalization. They should revise alarms to get the right ones, at the right times, at the right places and with the right responses.

Important: This is not a one-and-done exercise. It is essential to treat this as a continuous improvement process. The environment is constantly changing, and alarm management must change with it. Thus, the project team must repeat the process regularly to ensure that their program is up to date and any process or equipment changes are incorporated.

Technology is essential

All of this involves significant use of resources and time, and technology can help reduce the workload. Without it, the process can be overwhelming, especially in the far-flung oil and gas world with numerous DCS points. (More on the role of technology later.)

The importance of full visibility in oil and gas alarm management

Finding and eliminating bottlenecks and downtime is essential. There is no time to search through multiple databases to do so. Alarm data needs to be transparent and quickly accessible.

What’s more, once operators find the data, the ability to analyze it is mission-critical. Analysis sheds light on how the alarm management program is working by showing the frequencies and types of alarms occurring in what formats.

The use of data to modernize oil and gas operations

Originating in 1847, the oil and gas industry has evolved from collecting oil seepage in coal mines to pumping crude oil from wells to fracking, processing oil sands and producing natural gas.

What’s more, the rate of change in oil and gas industry operations and processes has accelerated in recent years, making it difficult to keep operations current. The constant awareness of issues caused by rapid change and the ability to quickly address them are essential to success. Thus, data-driven oil and gas alarm management is vital to continually and efficiently update practices.

Meeting safety and environmental standards

There are at least nine federal agencies that have jurisdiction over the oil and gas business, including the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, among others. In addition, there are numerous state agencies and US Congressional Committees that organizations must deal with.

To add gravity, the business is subject to numerous statutes at the state, federal and international levels.

Most agencies have stringent reporting requirements and standards and can launch investigations into incidents and safety violations. Financial penalties can be high, and criminal or civil proceedings can follow.

Thus, comprehensive and accurate record-keeping is required to respond promptly to any allegations of statutory or other violations. It follows that sound alarm management and full and prompt visibility to historical databases are crucial, along with the ability to analyze the root causes of alarms.

Once again, technology is a prerequisite for success. The TiPS LogMate suite helps overcome oil and gas alarm management limitations by providing one-stop easy access to all alarm information from multiple streams of DCS or local control data.

Key benefits of the LogMate suite for oil and gas

LogMate easily captures all alarm data into one database from multiple control systems. It is compatible with many DCS vendors, and alarm data is viewable in most standard browsers for easy implementation. Operators get a single, consolidated view – the first step to alarm management initiatives – with far less time and effort.

In addition, it automates the ongoing importation of updated configured alarms to the master alarm database, greatly accelerating the process of keeping alarm settings current. Moreover, it provides analytical tools to get to the root causes of problems and solve them quickly.

Full visibility is achievable with a consolidated, graphic view of alarms and responses in one place, making the lives of operators much easier. And to top it off, LogMate provides optional redundancy to ensure access and protect data in failover events.

For more information or a free demo of LogMate, contact us today!