Remote Working and the Future of HSE Inspections

One of the largest independent oil companies in Europe in terms of production has a major presence on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS), and a long-standing client of Baker Hughes’ Norwegian operations. This case study explores how the operator leveraged that relationship to beat the pandemic and keep its inspection on schedule.

The two-sided HSE challenge

As a member of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP), the operator is of course committed to the highest standards of health, safety, and environmental protections (HSE). In normal times that involves a rigorous inspection routine of all its sites – on and offshore – and meticulous record-keeping.

At the same time, the operator is committed to keeping its people safe in hazardous working environments. Managing these two HSE components became much harder in 2020, when efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic mandated social – and professional – distancing. With field service engineers confined to their respective locations, and even to home offices, maintaining a full programme of even routine HSE inspections became significantly more challenging.

Like all companies operating on the NCS, the independent E&P had to find new ways to carry out inspections and other operational tasks in a safe and efficient manner. As Baker Hughes had long been a supplier of essential and transformative oilfield technology to the company, and its predecessor companies, it was the natural choice to address this latest challenge.

Accelerating the solution

Even before the pandemic struck, Baker Hughes’ Stavanger team recognized that effectively communicating with personnel on offshore assets where low bandwidth and poor connectivity were the norm, was a major challenge for all its clients in Norway’s offshore oil and gas sector.

For example, there was usually no system in place for digitally recording, documenting and eventually auditing issues. Limited access to email and VoIP platforms, such as Skype, meant individuals often turned to non-approved apps, notably WhatsApp and Facebook, to communicate sensitive corporate or operational information.

COVID-19 rendered these widely acknowledged problems more acute and, in response, Baker Hughes pushed forward with development of its remote inspection and support platform, known as the engageSubsea Remote.

Remote, compliant inspections

The platform is hosted in the cloud and was developed to operate on any mobile device with a screen and camera, over any Wi-Fi or mobile network connection. The system could be utilized on all locations, both onshore and offshore, by field service engineers (FSE) or workshop technicians. The engineer carrying out the inspection downloads a visualization app before going on-site. Once in place they receive instructions from the designated ‘host’ who has remained onshore, at home or some other central location, to click on a secure link.

From that point the FSE can send a live video feed to the host – and other expert members of the inspection team who can also join the call. Superficially at least, it is similar to the generic video conference calling tools that have become a standard feature of remote working. But the crucial difference is that the experts on the call can see the remote site in exceptionally granular detail, and from there provide remote guidance. If utilizing the engageSubsea Remote solution over Microsoft Teams, there are no limitations to how many participants can join the inspection or the technical problem solving, from different companies.

This is because the engageSubsea Remote can capture high resolution images of tools and equipment being inspected even over low bandwidth connections. For Baker Hughes this was less of an issue because their site had good Wi-Fi, but was an important element for less well-connected sites.

The mobile app allows the FSE to record digital inventory of repairs or installations at the site while the onshore experts can plan for and witness the job being undertaken. The app includes optical character recognition (OCR) to easily and accurately extract the serial numbers of equipment and any parts that may be needed.

It also features a remote zoom function, a measurement tool that uses augmented reality technology and even a remote flashlight control, to get highly accurate images and dimensions of the site being inspected. Onshore experts can make decisions on the fly, and both the host and the FSE can annotate images to highlight areas of concern or record next steps.

On one notable occasion, the onshore experts spotted a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall and used the augmented-reality measurement tool to check whether it had the required one-meter free-standing space around it, as well as verifying the latest regulatory inspection dates.

Once completed, inspections can be signed off digitally and accepted in real-time, providing an immediate and auditable record of the work carried out. Any inspection documents, pictures, web pages that were recorded can be stored and sent or forwarded to an action tracking system (ATS) for further follow-up.

COVID-19, cost and carbon results

The operator was able to take advantage of Baker Hughes’ inspection expertise, without any additional personnel flying out to the rig, or driving to Baker Hughes’ test facility in Stavanger. Inspections were carried out successfully, without large teams being physically present, which kept FSEs/Technicians safe while adhering to social distancing requirements. It also created a calmer working environment in which stress-induced human error could be minimized. By completing inspections remotely, it also reduces the hazard of non-industrial workers being present in a potentially high-risk area.

However, the engageSubsea Remote has advantages that go beyond following the immediate pandemic measures. By reducing the travel and logistics involved in each remote inspection, companies can reduce the time and expense of carrying out their legal obligations and reduce the overall carbon emissions made in the process.

Looking at several projects in which the engageSubsea Remote has been deployed, Baker Hughes has calculated that on average, the time to first-time fix improved by 80%, resolution time was improved by 69% and cost savings were in the region of 50%. As for carbon emissions, output was reduced by 22%.

As a result, the company is looking to expand its use of the engageSubsea Remote in additional locations and for further use cases.