All is still well in Denmark! Although if you don’t look out the window, I really could be anywhere. Working for Maersk is the very definition of international. In a single day I may be on the phone with colleagues in Singapore and Mumbai (sometimes at the same time), frantically flipping through the pages of MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from ships) to determine whether or not a rig in the Philippines is disposing of their drill cuttings accordingly, or discussing corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the Arctic with colleagues over coffee. In our small HSSE team alone, there are ten countries represented and three continents. It makes for such an invigorating work environment, as world views fuse into progressive policymaking and occasional cultural faux pas give way to much needed laughter breaks.
Being part of an environment team in a drilling company is as exciting as it is ironic – ironic in that I am surrounded by people who thrive on protecting the planet, all while working for an industry that is inherently hurting it. Here, I am challenged to accept the multidimensionality of human-induced climate change, and equally challenged to consider a variety of solutions I never have before…from inside the industry itself.
With this blog entry, I want to show you what happens inside the drilling industry, and I want to challenge you while you read to just take a breath and ride the complexity with me. Because that is what our economy is, and our society. It is very complex. And that pesky climate change problem is a product of ALL of it.
HOW THE DRILLING BUSINESS WORKS
Drilling. That scary word! Let me follow up on my last entry by elaborating a little bit more on what the drilling industry is and what it is not. (In all honesty, this isn’t something I truly understood before coming here.) It’s really quite simple: a drilling company is a contractor, quite similar to a rental car company. It is responsible for the rigs (in Maersk’s case, MODUs – Mobile Offshore Drilling Units) that drill holes in the earth’s crust. It is not an oil company. Oil companies are the clients of drilling companies, and they lease rigs based on factors such as cost, technology, and health, safety and environmental standards. (Maersk Drilling, for example, is on the more expensive end because it uses highly specialized equipment and adheres to strict environmental standards.) The client is responsible for organizing the overall operation, which includes conducting environmental impact assessments and designing the well. The drilling company drills holes and turns the holes into fully functioning wells.
Aside from the oil and drilling companies, other less visible stakeholders are involved in drilling operations as well, such as supply services and technology providers. With so many stakeholders making high-level decisions, it can be confusing determining who is responsible when an incident happens. That said, all parties involved must have their values aligned, and they must communicate well, since the risks are so large. A spill can occur for a variety of reasons, including technological failure, human error and poor management, and everyone’s names will be attached (although the oil company’s name usually carries the most weight, as it a) is responsible for the overall operation, and b) is where the money is).
As if juggling stakeholder relations isn’t complicated enough, drilling operations must also adhere to national and international regulations. At the national level, there is the rig’s flag state and the laws of the national waters in which it operates. At the international level, there are international treaties, such as UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), MARPOL (which also applies to drilling rigs), and CLCS (Convention on the Limits of the Continental Shelf). All of these factors must be clearly reflected in HSSE management systems and procedures – which, as I am learning, is not as easy as opening a handbook.
WHAT I DO
My job as an environment fellow at the Maersk Drilling Headquarters, in a nutshell, is to help improve the environmental management system, known as SIRIUS. SIRIUS is where all employees, on and off the rigs, go for information on processes, organization, manuals and compliance for each of the MODUs in commission. My primary focus is on chemical and waste management on Maersk MODUs operating in U.S. waters. (Currently there are three – Viking, Valiant and Developer – all operating in the Gulf of Mexico.) Right now I am working with two colleagues (a senior environmental specialist and a chemical engineer) to come up with a chemical classification system to identify chemicals for substitution on the U.S. rigs, which involves coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management), BSEE (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) ONRR (Office of Natural Resource Revenue).
In Europe, the OSPAR Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) implemented a classification system specifically for the oil and gas industry called HOCNF (Harmonized Offshore Chemical Notification Format Scheme), which exists exclusively to prevent damage to the marine environment from discharge and accidental loss of exploration and production chemicals. It serves to standardize methods for chemical testing and reporting, and uses a straightforward “traffic light” system to prioritize chemicals for substitution, which makes it much easier for countries operating in the North-East Atlantic to comply. The U.S. does not yet have a standardized system like this (although the EPA is working to develop similar structures), so regulations are a little more confusing to understand.
Along with chemical regulations, I am also analyzing U.S. hazardous waste regulations (for the purpose of managing waste like oily drill cuttings, for example). My final deliverable will be report containing a gap analysis determining how well Maersk Drilling procedures align with U.S. regulations, the chemicals classification information and recommendations for improving the SIRIUS environmental management system. Confusing regulatory frameworks aside, Maersk Drilling strives for a high environmental standard and is working towards streamlining their own best practices worldwide. I am really excited to be a part of that.
Oh yes, I also play with water color pencils when I’m not at work…