How Pipeline Operators Tackle Crisis Management

How Pipeline Operators Tackle Crisis Management

The oil and gas sector works to mitigate risk and implement site-specific contingency plans in line with worldwide standards. The challenge is to maintain these standards in an increasingly pressurized global environment.

As the world’s population continues to climb and the global appetite for energy grows, the sector must strive for innovative ways to tap into the earth’s natural resources. The industry works hard to develop new technologies and find people with the right skills to meet these new challenges while ensuring health and safety is paramount.

In order to establish a rigorous health and safety culture, companies must attract and retain the highest caliber candidates possible. In the event of a crisis, companies need to know that they have people they can rely on—those that can respond to an emergency situation as it unfolds and swiftly bring it under control.


If a crisis occurs, companies face a number of challenges. If a large-scale evacuation is called for in a high-risk location, the operators must:

  • Ascertain where everyone is and ensure personnel are accounted for.
  • Look logistically at whether people can be moved by road or air and, if not, have a back-up plan in place.
  • Find out whether holding areas are available, how long they can be used for, and when food and water will run out. The company will need to take into account the volume of people using the facility and the duration of stay.
  • Find out whether the government has imposed regulations such as air restrictions or has any existing regulations in place that will affect your evacuation planning.

Crisis management is necessary because systems sometimes fail, so policies and procedures must do all they can to help to prevent incidents from happening in the first place. Effective contingency planning implemented by a strong, capable, and robust team should minimize the impact.

Contingency Planning

In the event of a crisis, the strongest companies tend not only to be those with the most comprehensive contingency plans but those that can think on their feet. It is impossible to predict and plan for every eventuality. Contingency planning works as guidance, a set of principles that can be adapted depending on the nature of each specific incident and executed by experienced teams that are able to respond quickly and appropriately.

Key elements to creating an effective plan include ensuring:

  • The plan is site specific.
  • The plan is endorsed by company leaders.
  • The plan is supported by the global frameworks of the business.
  • The plan is supported by an engaged workforce.
  • The plan is implemented within a rigorous safety culture.

In addition, the operator must provide ongoing investment; without this, contingency plans can become outdated and redundant. Investment can include ongoing training in order to ensure all processes and procedures are up-to-date and relevant and taking time to refine and re-draft plans when needed.

Health and Safety Skills

Following Brazil’s Frade field leak in late 2011 and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the global petroleum sector has worked hard to repair a damaged reputation and review processes, procedures, and contingency plans.

More companies are looking for candidates that have the specific skills and abilities needed to help minimize any potential risks and the impact if a worst-case-scenario event should take place. Because members of incident management teams are often required to work across geographical boundaries in unfamiliar, highly-pressurized, and challenging environments, companies must be sure to select people with the appropriate characteristics.

Decisions often have to be made swiftly. In light of limited, constantly changing information, strong problem-solving, communication, accountability, coordination, situation awareness, teamwork, and leadership skills are required.

Strategic thinkers need to look at why the emergency situation has occurred and anticipate outcomes to every decision taken as the event is happening. In addition, tactical and operation expertise must also be evident.

Incident Management Team Training

Even if individuals possess these specific characteristics and skill sets, a significant amount of training and practice is required to create a fully-functioning and well-rounded incident management team.

Teams that only come together at times of crisis, without ever having had the opportunity to understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses, are not going to be the most effective. Unless individual team members know their roles and responsibilities and understand the capabilities of their colleagues, they will be unable to pull together and work as one in the event of a crisis.

Since it is not possible to predict the exact circumstances of an incident, training should include familiarizing team members with policies and procedures, the evaluation of former incidents, and a variety of practical exercises. This will allow the team to work together, enhance their expertise, and address any skills shortages if needed. Teams should come together to train frequently to ensure they are fully prepared for an emergency situation.