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Preparing for shark attacks in pipeline integrity

In regions such as Western Australia, California and South Africa, the organizers of international surfing, swimming and sailing championships understand and protect competitors against the risk of shark attacks. While the number of incidents is extremely low, they make global headlines much in the same way that major oil and gas leaks do.

Recently, the UK’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reminded oil and gas operators of their responsibilities to prevent hydrocarbon leaks. Despite successful preventative measures and emergency response procedures in place, they must continue to adhere to industry guidance and ensure these are up-to-date and fit-for-purpose.

In parallel, oil and gas operators must prepare for unexpected hydrocarbon leaks through regular and comprehensive inspection, maintenance and repair programs. One safeguard many companies have in place, including across Hydratight’s own global operations, is the Emergency Pipeline Repair System (EPRS).

EPRS has always been used as a type of insurance, much like the use of drones to spot marauding sharks along the coastline. It is used to protect and prevent against the risk of the unknown and allows operators to decide on an emergency repair procedure and retain the necessary tooling, equipment and services before a situation occurs. This means they can react immediately to unplanned repair and minimize damage to the environment and field operations.

Thirty years ago, EPRS was considered ‘nice to have’ rather than an indispensable procedure as it is today. It was typically applied to only long lead-time products and with small budgets allocated. However, as the age and complexity of subsea assets developed over the decades, so did the associated risk. EPRS has rapidly risen up priority lists.

There’s now a much greater focus on mitigating production loss and lowering health, safety and environmental impact. This has driven the requirements of EPRS to be considered vital to strengthen future business safety and sustainability strategies.

Companies responsible for subsea assets must be aware of the potential risks to life and the environment if a leak was to occur. EPRS prepares for the reality that every pipeline is at risk of failure.

Factors including corrosion, erosion, dropped objects, dragged anchors, complications resulting from installation and blockages can all be the 'bites' that cause operational interruptions and potential shutdown. EPRS cannot remove these risks but it prepares operators for worst-case scenarios. It ensures operators have everything in place to solve problems quickly before they escalate. 

Protecting assets throughout their lifecycle by having contingency pipeline connectors, clamps and tooling ready is crucial. As these specialist pieces of equipment usually have long lead-times of up to 18 months, it is particularly important for large orders with non-standard dimensions.

Hydratight manages the procurement, design, manufacturing, delivery and servicing of this essential stock in locations including the Caspian, West Africa and Western Australia. Hydratight also supports EPRS regimes through its EPRS Club, which has around 20 members worldwide. As a member of the club, operators and asset owners pay a comparatively low annual rate to have access to a shared pool of contingency material and reserved machining capacity.

If an emergency does occur, approved designs and stock material can be fast tracked through manufacture and testing to enable quick mobilization. This has proven to be an attractive proposition for smaller operators or joint ventures to minimize costs while retaining a robust and rapid response.

Despite the most stringent safety measures, sharks can strike anywhere. This was evidenced recently after a surfer suffered serious bites to his leg during a competition in Western Australia. But unlike the unpredictable killer predator, protecting and preventing against hydrocarbon leaks can be more effectively controlled and managed, with the right processes in place.