The performance and failure modes of individual components can be straightforward and easy to assess. The behavior of complex systems, however, can be much harder to predict, and unintended consequences of altering one component of a system can lead to failures elsewhere. In addition, the interfaces of individuals, work crews, and organizations with technology are key determinants of system-level safety. BSEE has the responsibility for evaluating technologies given this complexity and for recommending as BAST those that materially improve offshore safety and whose incremental costs can be justified given the effect on safety, health, and the environment.

A concept such as “technology readiness level” (TRL) can be useful in assessing the maturity of technologies and could be of value to BSEE in the development and assessment of BAST.1 TRL is typically assigned on a numeric scale. For example, a TRL of 1 may designate basic research, while a TRL of 9 may indicate technologies that have been tested within operating systems and are fully operational. In the middle range, a TRL of 5 through 7 can indicate demonstration projects of varying complexity and maturity. BSEE should consider using a metric such as TRL, with levels established on the basis of explicit criteria, in categorizing BAST and communicating with industry on technology maturation (Recommendation 3-2).

Reliability and Risk Analysis

Whenever a technology component is introduced into oil and gas operations, the question of how it will affect systemwide reliability and safety arises. For proposed new technologies, trustworthy answers may be difficult or impossible to obtain before the decision is made whether to deploy the technology. Although many methods of engineering reliability and risk analysis have been developed to help anticipate and reduce risks of failures in technological systems, none completely overcomes the complexity and uncertainty inherent in managing risks of new technologies in oil and gas exploration and production.

Electronic, hydraulic, mechanical, software, hardware, and human components and subsystems interact at multiple points in the normal control and safe operation of a drilling rig, production platform, or other offshore facility. They may also interact in different, unexpected ways during an accident (e.g., due to common-mode failures), so it is necessary to consider not only whether new technologies introduced into one subsystem will perform as planned within that subsystem but also how they might interact in unintended ways with other subsystems, especially during emergencies. Perrow’s theory of “normal accidents”2 suggests that the complexity and tight coupling of interactions among these sub-

________________

1http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/codeq/trl/trl.pdf. Accessed September 25, 2013.

2http://press.princeton.edu/titles/6596.html. Accessed September 25, 2013.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement