The Committee on Connector Reliability for Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Operations held the Workshop on Bolting Reliability for Offshore Oil and Natural Gas Operations at the National Academies’ Keck Center in Washington, D.C., on April 10-11, 2017.
To inform and support the consensus work of the committee, the workshop was designed to advance and develop a comprehensive awareness of the outstanding issues associated with fastener material failures and equipment reliability issues. Speakers and participants were also encouraged to discuss possible paths for ameliorating risks associated with fasteners used for subsea critical equipment in oil and gas operations. The committee will consider the results of this workshop, along with other input and deliberations, in developing the final consensus report of its study.
Key issues discussed at the workshop included material, design load, preload, coating, cathodic protection (CP), failure, operation, and quality. For the purposes of this report, “fasteners,” “bolts,” and “connectors” are understood to be interchangeable; the use of a particular word reflects the speaker’s word choice, but the overarching term is “Bolting,” which covers them all.
The workshop was open to the public. This summary report was developed based on transcriptions of the presentations and discussions. These proceedings have been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of their employ-
ers, the workshop participants as a whole, the committee, the National Academies, the sponsor, or any other affiliated organizations.
Al Romig, Jr., National Academy of Engineering
Alton D. Romig, Jr., Ph.D., is the executive officer of the National Academy of Engineering. He has had a long career in laboratories and laboratory management, including many years at Sandia National Laboratories (operated by the Lockheed Martin Corporation). He previously served as vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company Advanced Development Programs, better known as Skunk Works.
In his opening remarks, Romig underscored the importance of fasteners in multiple industries and in the machinery we all encounter in everyday life. For oil and gas production, an industry he called vital to the United States and the world, Romig highlighted the tremendous advancements recent decades have brought in the equipment for the exploration, drilling, and extraction of oil and gas, particularly in the subsea environment.
Romig said it is paramount that this equipment perform well and perform safely, both for the people who work on the rigs and for the surrounding environment. The imperative to support performance, reliability, and safety of subsea equipment, he explained, is the fundamental basis of the work of the committee.
The subsea environment is incredibly diverse; this equipment must operate at various depths, temperatures, and salinity levels and handle a variety of seafloor conditions. In addition, fasteners and the equipment they are installed on vary greatly, from what material a manufacturer chooses to how the industry builds, tests, monitors, and maintains these complex machines. The safety and reliability of bolts used on subsea equipment is a systems engineering problem requiring a systems engineering solution. Understanding how fasteners are designed and built today, Romig said, is crucial to managing this hardware—and improving its safety and reliability—in the future.
Douglas Morris and Joseph Levine, BSEE
Douglas Morris and Joseph Levine of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) shared their perspective as government regulators of the offshore oil and gas industry and explained the reasoning and context behind BSEE’s
charge to the committee. Douglas Morris is BSEE chief of offshore regulatory programs and Joseph Levine is BSEE chief of emerging technology.
BSEE’s Role and Approach
Morris began by introducing BSEE, the federal regulatory agency that works to promote safety, protect the environment, and conserve resources in the context of the offshore energy industry. Of BSEE’s 800 staff members, Morris said about 280 are engineers or inspectors, who work in various locations to monitor operations in areas extending into the federal waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.
BSEE handles a wide variety of regulatory challenges because offshore drilling occurs in a wide variety of operating conditions, from deep water to ice to hurricanes. In addition, facilities can range from single well caissons to billion-dollar projects. Noting that there are currently about 55 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, of which 39 are floating facilities (the type most relevant to the issue of subsea bolting), Morris said an added complication is that, because rigs are owned by drilling contractors and leased to the petroleum companies who operate them, the rigs can move from lease to lease and also move into different international jurisdictions.
Since the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, in which 11 workers died, BSEE has launched several safety initiatives. A key one, Morris said, focuses on improving the reliability of critical safety equipment, including blowout preventers (BOPs). While some companies may be reluctant to openly share data about their equipment and operations, BSEE believes that doing so can lead to increased reliability. To encourage such information sharing, BSEE started the SafeOCS program (https://www.safeocs.gov), which allows failures to be reported confidentially. A third party then aggregates and analyzes the data in order to identify trends.
BSEE is especially interested in why equipment failures occur. Being able to attribute a failure or a “near miss” to a design flaw, a manufacturing issue, or ineffective industry standards, for example, allows regulators to direct their energy to the areas likely to make the biggest difference. In describing BSEE’s approach, Morris emphasized the importance of working with manufacturing and energy experts to identify and solve these issues. “The bottom line,” Morris stated, “is that we view these issues as safety issues that need to be resolved [by] collaboration rather than additional regulation.”
Impetus for the Committee’s Activity
Joe Levine described why BSEE contracted the National Academy of Sciences as an independent, unbiased partner to offer recommendations to address the problem of subsea fastener failures and explained the approach BSEE took in crafting the committee’s statement of task.
While fasteners are clearly important for offshore oil and gas pipelines and drilling, they are also vital to a variety of other industries, including naval, space, aircraft, and nuclear applications, as well as to the construction of bridges, buildings, and other infrastructure. In its charge to the committee, BSEE requested that the committee consider lessons on fastener manufacturing, maintenance, and failures from these other industries—for example, Levine pointed to a 2015 bolt failure affecting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge—in addition to experiences within the oil and gas industry.
Levine reviewed how the issue of bolt failures in the oil and gas field emerged and evolved over the past 15 years. In 2003, when BSEE was known as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), BP experienced a bolt failure in its Thunder Horse oil field. In Levine’s view, MMS and BP addressed the incident prudently, and for years there were no more known bolt failures. Then in 2010, the issue of bolt failures reemerged, when a set of failures was reported in BOPs, subsea stacks, lower marine riser packages (LMRPs), connectors, and shear rams—issues that seemed to come up “all relatively at the same time,” Levine recalled.
Failed fasteners, Levine stressed, are a safety issue that BSEE takes very seriously and is intent on resolving. Thus far, BSEE and the industry have had relatively good luck in discovering near-miss events, and failed bolts have not yet led to loss of well control or devastating spills. Levine also noted that failures are not just a safety issue, but an economic one as well; when rigs are taken offline to address bolt failures, hundreds of millions of dollars can be lost.
To address the recent bolt failures, BSEE launched the Quality Control Failure Incident Team (QCFIT), overseen by Candi Hudson, Ph.D., BSEE’s systems reliability team leader. When a failure comes to the agency’s attention, Hudson and her team assess its contributing and root causes by examining the applicable industry standards, manufacturing specifications, regulations, and operational procedures. While traditional BSEE reports focus on enforcement—for example, whether a company was in compliance, what enforcement measures are needed, and whether a civil penalty will be levied—the QCFIT reports focus on safety, with an aim to identify the cause of a failure and recommend ways to mitigate future events.
Levine described four major areas of concern to inform the committee’s focus: quality control and auditing, standards, manufacturing processes, and operational procedures. The role of quality control was underscored in the first QCFIT report, which noted that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are not applying rigorous quality control and auditing measures to their entire supply chain, which can include many layers. For the second issue, industry standards, Levine noted that current standards—for example, pertaining to the hardness of materials—are broad and diverse, suggesting that harmonizing material standards to address gaps and inconsistencies may improve equipment reliability. The third issue, manufac-
turing, has two areas of concern: heat treatment issues and coatings. For example, if the majority of fasteners are zinc coated, would it be possible that other types of manufacturing processes or coatings could improve reliability? Operational procedures, the final category, includes the installation, torquing, lubrication, and CP of fasteners in the subsea environment.
The committee kicked off its project in March 2017 with a meeting held in Houston, Texas, that included representatives from BSEE, BOP manufacturers, bolt manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). At the meeting, participants explored the range of situations in which bolt failure presents a concern and saw, in person, the astounding size and weight of the fasteners involved in previous failures. Levine noted that fasteners have failed in both the connector and the lower stack of the subsea stack and emphasized that the committee should consider equipment used in both drilling and oil production.
Levine reviewed several other review initiatives that can support and complement the committee’s work. He encouraged participants to review both QCFIT reports released to date, Evaluation of Seal Assemblies and Cement Failures and Evaluation of Connector and Bolt Failures, which together form the basis of BSEE’s interest in bolt failures. A third report, focusing on blind shear and actuator failures, should be complete in 2018.
Levine also pointed to BSEE’s 2016 Bolt Forum and ongoing conversations with leaders from API, ASTM International, NACE International, and their relevant standards task groups. Levine noted that these task groups are compiling information on manufacturer specifications and standards—one of BSEE’s main areas of concern—and working hard to harmonize their different standards. For example, API recently released the second edition of API Spec 20E: Specification for Alloy and Carbon Steel Bolting for Use in the Petroleum and Natural Gas Industries (“20E”), which involved a concerted effort to make material property requirements more consistent. Levine said BSEE is also looking forward to the upcoming addendum to the ninth edition of API Spec Q1: Specification for Quality Management System Requirements for Manufacturing Organizations for the Petroleum and Natural Gas Industry (“Q1”), and expressed his hope that API will include the main takeaway from the second QCFIT report, namely that OEMs need to take a much closer look at quality control and auditing procedures in their own supply chains.
Another relevant initiative is a collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, which BSEE asked to research and analyze the hundreds of fastener standards in use globally, across multiple industries, including automotive, medical, and nuclear equipment in addition to oil and gas. The goal is to compare and contrast these standards, identify gaps, and provide BSEE with specific input and recom-
mendations for improvements to existing standards. This work should be released publicly in 2018, Levine said.
BSEE also formed an Interagency Bolt Action Team composed of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. Coast Guard, and several other groups. The team meets regularly and shares information, expertise, and experiences relevant to fastener safety. In addition, BSEE has engaged NASA to conduct tests on some of the failed bolts BSEE has collected.
This workshop is the first part of a two-step contract between BSEE and the National Academies (see Box 1.1, Statement of Task). Its primary goal is to increase understanding of subsea equipment, bolt performance, and root and contributing causes of failure. Part two will be a full study in which the committee will examine and analyze the information shared at this workshop in order to prepare high-quality recommendations, which will be released in spring 2018.
BSEE’s many studies and partnerships, including this workshop, the Interagency Bolt Action Team, and the work with NASA and Argonne, are set to converge in early 2018. Levine closed his remarks by expressing his hope that each group’s recommendations will also converge to give BSEE a high degree of confidence in how to move forward on this issue.