During typical well operations, production activities or processing plants, especially in sour environments, a barrier between the site and populated areas such as towns and villages is often overlooked. Operators and contractors are focusing on protecting site personnel while relying on simple general public guidelines to alert the neighboring communities. While the industry is seeing great progress towards a digital oilfield concept where monitoring of production and optimization of flow rates and fluids are remotely actuated to reduce the burden of manning the various oilfields and maximizing production of the reservoir, these concepts did not filter to the safety management of sites and to the public protection procedures that would apply on these sites.

A recent technology failure on March 6th 2011 at the Karachaganak Field resulted in a fatal outcome1. This incident occurred in March 2011, where one employee died and a second employee was found in a nearby hanger in a critical condition. Both employees were conducting cleaning works at the time of the incident. Individual protection gear, a gas indicator and special safety instructions all failed to save the life of the contractor's employee from Karachaganak's fatal atmosphere during the technology failure.

Village resident and leader of the village campaign for relocation, stated: "In accordance with official documents, in the event of an emergency at a well site, a plume of hydrogen sulfide could reach the village within 10–30 minutes, depending on the direction of the wind. The contractor is only obliged to notify village residents via a signal from a special tower located in the village and it is local authorities who must ensure the evacuation of residents. How this is to be conducted in such a short period of time remains unclear. Moreover, Berezovka residents themselves do not know what to do in such a situation; and what if an emission occurs at night? It is disturbing to think of the consequences that may occur in the event of an H2S situation".

Another technical failure in Canada in 2009 caused the release of 30,000 cubic meters of gas containing 6200ppm of H2S. The nearby community was not alerted until six hours after the release causing massive concern over procedures for public protection2.

This paper discusses lessons learned from the digital oilfield concepts and its applicability to remote safety monitoring and safety processes. In addition, suggestions for improvements and coordination with local villages and their authorities are also discussed.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.