ASEA’s Regulations Improve Safety in a Risky IndustryBy Paloma Duran | Wed, 07/14/2021 - 15:49
The implementation of health and safety measures in the industry, especially during the pandemic, was not only the result of internal efforts, but also of external changes that came from regulators. Jose Luis Gonzáles González, Head of the Supervision, Inspection and Industrial Surveillance Unit at ASEA, presented the panel “Industrial Safety Performance and Priorities” at Mexico Oil and Gas Summit 2021, in which he highlighted the role of regulators such as ASEA in improving compliance and safety within the hydrocarbon industry.
National Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection Agency (ASEA) is one of the youngest agencies within the sector. It was created in 2015 and is in charge of disseminating related regulations and enforcing compliance for public and private sector companies in the hydrocarbons industry. "We carry out supervision, inspection, surveillance and verification so that all activities related to the hydrocarbon industry can be carried out safely, in addition to respecting regulations and the environment."
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic affected the tasks performed by ASEA as it was difficult to go to the different facilities for inspections. Fortunately, ASEA's capacity has increased, as it has learned to work despite the pandemic. ASEA's regulation, inspection, supervision and surveillance departments were able to support operators throughout the industry value chain to ensure no accidents or business interruptions occurred.
“We began adopting online modalities and receiving all the training necessary to manage them. These efforts allowed us to continue operating, executing evaluations and issuing authorizations. Now, these online modalities are quotidian and, for the most part, we have been able to maintain a reasonable continuity in our operations,” González told MBN.
ASEA implements corrective, urgent and safety measures based on the status of the inspected activities and facilities. Corrective measures are usually minor infractions that do not put staff at risk; urgent measures are a priority due to their possibility of causing accidents; and security measures are to prevent accidents.
From 2017-2021, the corrective measures have been the most implemented. However, there is a downward trend due to multiple requests for supervision that have allowed companies to better understand the regulation. The implementation of urgent measures also follows a downward trend, while security measures have remained at a similar level since 2017. "We are modifying a number of industry norms that we inherited from previous administrations, since their timeframes need to be adjusted," said González.
ASEA also carries out inter-institutional operations to combat illicit hydrocarbon trafficking, in which it works in conjunction with PROFECO, CRE, the National Guard, SEDENA and the Navy. From 2019-2021, ASEA has worked in 21 states across Mexico, carried out inspections in more than 125 facilities, made 34 temporary closures, suspended 21 temporary activities and implemented 55 urgent and corrective measures. González explained that during 2021, ASEA's activities in Hidalgo have intensified as it is a priority state in the fight against illicit trade.
Regarding incidents and accidents, ASEA has classification criteria that depend on the magnitude of it. Type 1 is for accidents where personnel were injured, there were damages to the facilities and failures in the operation of the equipment; Type 2 is for when the accident caused fatalities, disrupted operations, and hazardous material was released within the facility; and Type 3 is for when there was a death, the personnel and the population had to be evacuated, operations are interrupted and a dangerous substance was released outside the facilities.
For these situations, there is the Root Cause Investigation (ICR) process, where the company must report the event and classify it according to its severity. Subsequently, the situation is also analyzed by ASEA, which makes recommendations. At the end, a final report is presented, in which the company has 180 days after the event to deliver it. "We do not sanction. We promote compliance with regulations and support companies in the event of an accident. Our purpose is to learn to prevent accidents."
In 2020, there was a significant increase in accidents. In the commercial and transportation area, accidents increase by 70 percent due to the closure of multiple pipelines and the different risks posed by the types of transportation. However, ASEA continues to address these issues. "Since April 2021, ASEA has been on a communication campaign to share lessons learned from the latest incidents in the sector, which include major accidents in hydrocarbon transportation and storage," said González.
Recently, there was a controversial accident in Campeche called an "eye of fire," in which an underwater gas leak caused a fire on the ocean surface. During his presentation, González said that he wanted to clarify some facts that have been incorrectly reported. On July 2, a leak in an underwater pipeline and fire on the ocean were reported at 5.15 am, for which safety protocols were activated, resulting in the extinction of the fire at 10:45 am.
According to González, there was a loss of containment in the gas pipeline, which released gas. However, weather conditions in the area are believed to be the cause of the fire. After the accident, PEMEX identified and reported the event as Type 3 and in accordance with ASEA protocols, PEMEX must submit a report of the event and its cause within 180 days.
González concluded the panel by highlighting that ASEA's priority objective is to strengthen supervision, inspection and surveillance in the hydrocarbon sector to maintain the safety of processes, people, environment and facilities. "We work with a model based on lessons learned, ICR recommendations, and measurements we make during inspections."