Process safety starts at the early design phase of building facilities and continues throughout their life cycle, making sure they are operated safely, well maintained and inspected regularly to identify and deal with any potential process safety hazards.
We make sure our facilities are well designed, safely operated and properly maintained to prevent leaks of hazardous materials.
For example, we embedded safety in the design and construction of the Falcon Ethane Pipeline System in the USA, which was commissioned in 2021. We used pipe with thicker walls and buried it deeper than required by regulations. We used ultrasound and X-ray equipment to test welds before use. The pipeline is designed to withstand almost twice the normal operating pressure.
Clear global standards
Our global standards and operating procedures define our expectations for the controls and physical barriers required to reduce the risks of incidents. For example, offshore wells must be designed with at least two independent barriers in the direction of flow, in order to reduce the risk of an uncontrolled release of hydrocarbons. We regularly inspect, test and maintain these barriers to ensure they meet our standards.
For example, at the West Delta Deep Marine joint venture asset (Shell working interest share 50%, not operated venture by Shell); off the coast of Egypt, non-invasive technologies are used to inspect more than 750 kilometres of hydrocarbon-carrying pipelines for their integrity. Since 2017, until end of 2021, 540 kilometres were confirmed safe through inspecting the pipeline thickness using electromagnetic waves. The remaining 200 kilometres pipeline are concrete-coated pipe which are different from the rest hence the thickness will be inspected in 2022 using the analysis of the pipeline’s magnetic fields.
We take a dual approach to potential incidents. We identify and assess risks that have the potential to become an incident and take the necessary steps to mitigate or eliminate them. At the same time, we prepare for, and are ready to respond to, incidents that occur.
We learn from investigations into industry incidents and embed this knowledge into our technical safety standards. Our training programmes help to create a working culture that increases risk awareness and prevents safety incidents.
Preparing for emergencies
We routinely prepare and practise our emergency response to potential incidents such as a spill or a fire. This involves working closely with local services and regulatory agencies to jointly test our plans and procedures. These tests continually improve our readiness to respond. If an incident does occur, we have procedures to reduce the impact on people and the environment.
In August and September 2021, hurricane Ida posed a potential safety risk to millions of people across the Gulf Coast region. Thousands of Shell employees, contractors, and their families were affected. Hurricane Ida also threatened Shell’s onshore and offshore assets in the region. Thanks to years of planning and learning through exercises, Shell's emergency response teams could efficiently take care of employees and do everything possible to minimise the disruption of our business. We conducted extensive training at our sites between May and July 2021, so that our teams were ready to react when the storm hit.
Spills prevention and management
Large spills of crude oil, oil products and chemicals associated with our operations can harm the environment, and result in major clean-up costs, fines and other damages.
We have requirements and procedures designed to prevent spills. We design, operate and maintain our facilities with the intention of avoiding spills. To further reduce the risk of spills, Shell has routine programmes to reduce failures and maintain the reliability of facilities and pipelines.
We are also involved in several industry consortia formed to improve well-containment capabilities such as the Marine Well Containment Company for the the Gulf of Mexico region and Oil Spill Response Limited, a global industry consortium.
For oil spills, we have created a global response network that enables us to deal more effectively with oil spills, supplementing local response capability. We routinely perform large-scale exercises with local regulatory and response organisations to practice, and improve, our response capability.
An example of such a large scale spill response exercise was held in the Moerdijk region (Netherlands) in October. The two-day exercise was based on an incident involving a vessel spill of fuel and chemicals to the marine environment whilst moored at the Shell Moerdijk manufacturing facility. The scenario involved significant government participation and brought together 150 local and regional Shell staff & response partners, over 350 government staff played in the exercise all with varying backgrounds and skills, in order to work together and respond accordingly to clearly defined objectives.
Using technology to improve process safety
We continue to increase our use of digital technologies – such as augmented reality, digital twins, robots and drones – to run safer operations and help our frontline workers. We believe digital technology can enhance our front-line workers safety and break a plateau in our safety performance to keep pursuing our Goal Zero ambition.
For instance, while building our Pennsylvania Petrochemicals Complex, USA, we have used digital technologies throughout the construction process. This includes drone footage and machine learning to detect unforeseen hazards and unsafe work practices, which we then correct and learn from. It has also made the safety inspection process 15 times faster and reduced staff exposure hours on safety walks and inspections at height.
At the Shell Scotford Complex in Canada and the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland in Germany, we use four-legged robots to perform riskier and more mundane maintenance inspection tasks, such as entering confined spaces, to reduce the safety exposure of staff.
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