A NEW SITE
Shell operates a global enterprise of energy and petrochemical companies spanning more than 70 countries and employs more than 80,000 people. As experts in the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and natural gas - plus the manufacturing and marketing of chemicals - Shell uses advanced technologies and takes an innovative approach to help build a sustainable energy future. Since 1914, Shell has operated in Argentina, starting its hydrocarbon exploration and production activities in 1921, and currently operates four license blocks in the Neuquén Basin, including Sierras Blancas.
Now, a century into operations, Shell has continuously maintained its presence in the region, with a recently awarded 35-year government contract for exploration in Sierra Blancas. When they are in harvest mode, which includes the sequence of drilling, completing and putting wells into production, unplanned downtime can be costly. It results in production deferment and other associated maintenance costs. Shell realized that in order to maximize performance and meet business KPIs, they must automate the control, operation, safety and alignment to industry standards.
SOUNDING THE ALARM
High alarm counts were a serious concern when Control and Automation Specialist Luciano Pedro Centurion joined Shell in 2017. Working to support the site’s control systems and advanced applications, one of his key goals was to improve alarm system performance in-line with the organization’s global expectations. To meet this goal, Shell’s alarm management targets were set to no more than three alarms per hour, per operator; a more stringent KPI than those set by ISA 18.2 standards that suggest no more than six.
At the time, long-term averages ranged from 60-80 alarms per hour, per operator and there were even days when alarm counts reached 150. That’s 25 times higher than industry standards and 50 times higher than the limits set by Shell. The constant noise and resulting operator overload caused inattention to the alarm system resulting in an increased risk of abnormal situations going unnoticed and leading to incidents. In several cases, controller setpoints were being set above high alarm values, creating standing or stale alarms which were often shelved indefinitely by operators.
In an operation of this magnitude, incidents caused by unmanaged shelved alarms could have a significant impact on people, plant, the environment and profitability of the site. The constant overload from the alarm system confused operators on how to respond to process issues, when the intent of an alarm is supposed to direct and guide them on how to respond to an abnormal situation and avoid potential incidents. Once a month, a global report is generated where the performance of all of Shell’s sites are reviewed, and prior to commencement of the improvement initiative, alarm KPIs were consistently red for Sierras Blancas. With alarms being closely linked to safety, this issue immediately became visible to management in Argentina and to global executives.
This visibility ensured that focus was applied to resolve the situation at Sierras Blancas. While Luciano and his team knew they needed to implement better alarm management practices to achieve system improvements, and after attempting to extract and analyze the data themselves, they realized the manual process was time consuming and prone to human error. A tool was required to assist in benchmarking the alarm system against ISA standards and company targets, identify areas of poor performance and provide insights into how to resolve issues. They needed much more of an off-the-shelf solution to accelerate alarm system improvement that could deliver upfront benefits faster with continuous monitoring.
The Sierra Blancas site first established a baseline for performance by gathering, analyzing and reviewing alarm data and through operator interviews. They defined desired processes, roles and responsibilities, goals, target KPIs and methodology before identifying the tools, resources, time and funding required. Shell takes process & asset safety extremely seriously, and because the performance of the alarm system was a safety concern, the investment and project improvements were quickly approved.
Shell procured and deployed Honeywell Alarm Management to begin automatically collecting data to monitor alarm system performance. In tandem, the team developed a site alarm philosophy document along with their methodology for rationalizing alarms, training operators and driving continuous process improvements.
The use of Honeywell Alarm Management was central to the improvement initiative, with the out-of-the-box reporting capabilities used to not only drive the alarm rationalization process, but for ongoing alarm system maintenance. For example, weekly meetings are now run to review and improve alarm system performance that use the reports from Honeywell Alarm Management to drive investigations and actions between the various departments on site. Luciano noted, using the reporting and documentation module within the Alarm Management suite of products reduced the time and effort required benchmark, improve and sustain alarm system performance and are now in-line with industry standards and company policies.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
While Shell did not define monetary gains for their Sierra Blancas site, they were pursuing an overarching alarm system improvement that aligned with recommendations outlined by ISA and their own stringent targets. The site achieved its goal of reducing the longterm average of 80 alarms per hour, per operator to three, which equates to more than a 90% reduction in operator loading from the alarm system. In turn, this reduced production deferral caused by poor alarm system performance by an estimated 3-4%.
Sierras Blancas is now a reference site with Shell for alarm management practices and continues to use Honeywell Alarm Management as a key tool to ensure that performance is maintained and KPIs are achieved. Luciano noted that he and the team are very satisfied with the speed and quality of the alarm management project implementation and support they continue to receive. They are learning how best to leverage their solution to solve alarm system issues, along with the remote troubleshooting support that is available in the rare event that issues do occur.
Honeywell Alarm Management helped to empower Shell to achieve what appeared as an insurmountable target. The tools helped to ensure that everyone was able to contribute as part of the wider team and collaborate to improve alarm system performance.