A Framework To Maintain Industrial Safety Post-COVID-19By Pedro Alcalá | Tue, 05/11/2021 - 10:55
Q: What role has ASEA played during the pandemic as a regulator for the oil and gas industry?
A: We were successful in adapting to an ever-evolving timeline. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were told that all activity would be regularized by May at the latest. We all know normality was not restored by then. However, 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. During the worst times of the pandemic, we put together protocols that enabled us to open during certain days of the week and receive permit applications for the most demanding subsectors of activity within the hydrocarbons industry. Fortunately, this allowed industry entities to operate with legal certainty. Our regulation, inspection, supervision and surveillance departments were able to support operators throughout the industry’s value chain, from upstream to downstream projects, to make sure no shutdowns of their activities occurred. In that sense, I would say that we were a successful regulator throughout 2020.
Q: What role did communication with its international counterparts and partners play in ASEA’s adoption of new safety standards?
A: Our main priority was to reduce the risk of COVID-19 contagions, both within the agency and at the worksites of regulated entities. To achieve this, we aligned new guidelines to standards that had been established by our existing international-based SASISOPA protocols. SASISOPA establishes criteria that we can analyze to assess hygienic operational risks that were applicable to situations created by COVID-19 in isolated offshore worksites. International companies that operate in Mexico and are subject to our regulations played a part in fine-tuning these protocols and requirements because they were receiving feedback and valuable insights from their operations in other parts of the world. We also participated in international webinars with other international regulators, where experiences and case analyses were shared.
Q: What are the most important items in your agenda given the changes in leadership that the agency experienced in 2019 and 2020?
A: On March 1, 2021, we celebrated our sixth anniversary. We are considered the youngest regulator in Mexico, so we are experiencing a continuous learning curve. We are on our third administration and on our third executive director. Our director’s agenda is simple: to keep our operations going. His main focus is to increase interdepartmental communications so that more projects can be addressed by the entire agency instead of by individual offices. He is also interested in addressing companies that might be experiencing anomalous incidents in their permitting and authorization procedures. In general, he wants us to target regulatory processes that were left inconclusive and that need to be addressed with updated standards and new procedures. Another focus is to broaden our channels of communications with companies and all regulated entities and stakeholders.
Q: How was the regulation of the oil and gas sector affected by the federal government’s decision to prioritize its operational continuity as essential throughout the pandemic?
A: We understood the centralization of the hydrocarbons sector because there was no other viable industrial engine for the country’s economy. At the same time, this fixation also represented a hard blow to the sector’s regulators. Industry personnel in all segments of its value chain, including myself, were vulnerable to COVID-19. Many experts had to be sent home as a result, and a great deal of real-time monitoring technologies and systems had to be implemented so that their specialized knowledge would not be wasted. This centralization meant that our regulatory services were equally in demand in all segments of the value chain and thus had to be equally applied; one segment could not become more important than the other. We could not execute inspections and issue authorizations faster for exploration and production projects than we did for fuel transport or retail. Slowing down on one segment created ripples down the road that halted production continuity. This all proved incredibly demanding.
Q: How are you preparing to regulate exploration and production activities in 2021?
A: Operators are planning to accelerate their activities but they are also aware that they have to cope with a whole new landscape. Drilling platform day rates for offshore operators, particularly those working on deepwater projects, are now once again hovering around half a million dollars. Considering all of this, plus new and strict hygiene protocols to prevent COVID-19 contagions changes the economic logic of their development plans. They now have to adjust to longer offshore shifts, which have increased to 28 days from 14, and any number of additional quarantine-derived delays for specialists from abroad. To help operators deal with this situation, we are executing inspections and targeting the areas of highest risk and concern, which in many cases involve the technical design, integrity and structural reliability of the wells themselves.
National Industrial Safety and Environmental Protection Agency (ASEA) is in charge of disseminating related regulations and enforcing compliance of public and private sector companies in the hydrocarbons industry.