Article   |   Gordon Ellis   |   09.08.2022

Seeing SECEs differently for greater efficiency

Managing safety and environmentally critical elements shouldn’t be standard, but strategic – especially now.

Standard ways to manage safety and environmentally critical elements (SECEs) stifle efficiency and innovation. The oil, gas and petrochemical industries could all benefit from a strategic approach, especially right now.

One consequence of the war in Ukraine will be a heightened reliance on existing critical infrastructure as Europe severs its dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. For the foreseeable future there will be increased pressure on assets, including those operating beyond their intended design life. Take the UK, where the government is planning to allow drilling for North Sea oil and gas “to the maximum extent”. When coupled with today’s environmentally conscious world, a clearer focus on SECEs is more important than ever.

Offshore and onshore, we’re finding that traditional approaches to managing such critical components often overemphasises certain activities, with an overinvestment of ringfenced budgets. The result is that organisations in complex sectors are missing out on optimisation opportunities at a time when such gains are needed. This an insight worth sharing, given that such efficiencies can be achieved without compromising on safety levels.

The focus of our blog series
We’ll be looking at operational assets from the perspective of preventing a major accident, as well as any resulting major environmental incident. While onshore industries are more familiar with safety critical elements (SCE) as a term, offshore oil and gas exploration and production industries have been using the definition safety and environmental critical elements (SECEs) since 2018. This change is reflected by the introduction of the EU Directive 2013/30/EU on the safety of offshore oil and gas operations in response to the Macondo (Deep Horizon) incident. Throughout this series, SECE will be adopted as an industry wide term, as it is commonly found that any structure, plant, equipment, system (including computer software) or component part whose failure could cause or contribute substantially to a major accident is safety and environmentally critical, as is any which is intended to prevent or limit the effect of a major accident. Identifying a SECE should follow from identifying major accident hazards (as defined by regulators).

For one of our clients operating in the North Sea, a 10-month maintenance optimisation project resulted in a £27m saving.

Four core findings from the field

1. SECE management approaches aren’t challenged

Sticking to the status quo, and how SECEs have always been managed internally, is understandable in high-risk, capital-intensive organisations. But it is only by challenging conventional thinking that efficiencies can be realised. Once identified, areas for optimisation, including where there is an over-assignment of SECEs, invariably seem obvious to our clients.

2. SECEs are rarely ranked

Unlike in nuclear energy, there tends to be a black-and-white, consequence-based approach to managing SECEs across the oil and gas and petrochemical industries. Each SECE is treated in the same way, rather than being prioritised in order of risk and importance, so greater focus can be placed on the most critical of critical elements.

3. Testing is for testing sake, ignoring valuable data

Currently there is a culture of testing without analysing the results to see how insights from the raw data gathered can support optimisation efforts. Many of today’s computerised maintenance management systems (CMMSs) lack quality data for managing SECEs as effectively as possible. That’s a big opportunity missed.

4. Reviews and risk assessments are lacking

Across industries, there tends to be inadequate reviews, especially risk assessments of SECE failures. Where embraced, these provide valuable learning opportunities to identify area for improvement. Quick wins, often.

In our blog series, we’ll be addressing these key issues, starting with how best to identify SECEs and set effective performance standards. Getting management strategies and systems right will also be a central theme. To best support industry’s success, we’ll be sharing common pitfalls, lessons learned and optimisation solutions.

All-round business benefits

Good SECE management is a shrewd investment, with significant returns through several operational and business benefits, including:

• reducing incident failures and unplanned shutdowns

• enhancing production time

• saving on maintenance and inspection programmes

• helping to avoid premature repair or replacement of SECEs

• meeting regulations efficiently, while safeguarding corporate reputation.

For one of our clients operating in the North Sea, a 10-month maintenance optimisation project resulted in an estimated £27m saving. While this was a wider project, looking at SECEs alone would, conservatively, have saved around £25%. For several projects, we’ve seen initial savings in this areas fund further optimisation work. To meet an ever-greater dependence on existing assets, many organisations will benefit from the advantages of seeing their SECEs differently.