Oil and gas shutdowns are an inevitable part of operating a plant or refinery. From installing new equipment, to upgrading systems or performing routine maintenance, there are countless reasons why a shutdown might occur. But when they do, companies have a single top priority— ensuring a safe and successful plant shutdown so they can return to their regular operations as soon as possible.

To achieve this desired outcome the company has to conduct thorough and diligent maintenance shutdown planning. The success of the shutdown truly does depend on the planning process and there are many bases that must be covered before a plant or refinery halts its daily operations.

Today, we’ll be identifying five shutdown mistakes oil and gas companies frequently encounter and diving a little deeper into what makes them so detrimental.

A special thank-you to Derek Voyce, a Senior Engineer here at Catch Engineering, for providing the insights below.

Here are 5 Common Mistakes Companies Make When Preparing for a Shutdown:

1.Poor Cross-Team Communication

Oil and gas shutdowns are a coordinated effort between multiple internal departments and external contractors. It is impossible to execute a successful plant shutdown without all parties being informed and involved in the decision-making process at every phase of the project.

The more oil and gas companies minimize disconnect between the various teams involved, the smoother the entire process will be. The best way to do this? Ensure all parties commit to an established communication process and routine before getting started. Set project milestones in advance, determine the best communication method, and set clear expectations prior to starting any work.

Remember— overcoming setbacks and minimizing further risk is far easier when everyone is on the same page and moving forward as a united front.

2. Failing to Maintain a Master Schedule

Far too often, oil and gas companies become so focused on completing individual maintenance or upgrade projects that they forget to maintain an overarching view of their overall shutdown. Someone has to be responsible for monitoring the project from a broad perspective.

There are commonly hundreds of tasks that must be completed in order to achieve a successful plant shutdown. These tasks are typically completed in phases by multiple different teams. If a company fails to include a master schedule as part of their maintenance shutdown planning activities, they are failing to account for how these various tasks can impact one another. This can result in major setbacks, with a single oversight easily snowballing into a significant issue.

It is critical to not only establish your master schedule but determine who will be responsible for overseeing its execution.

3.Inadequate Risk Assessments

This is one of the most substantial shutdown mistakes made by oil and gas companies. It may seem fabricated, but the vast majority of shutdown setbacks or issues can be spotted ahead of time if comprehensive risk analysis is completed.

Let’s take mechanical equipment, for instance. Certain pieces of equipment can take weeks or months to be transported to a job site. If this fact is accounted for in advance, the company may choose to have a second piece of equipment on standby just in case the first piece fails or becomes damaged. The choice to do this may be determined by the cost, customer or operational impact of the subsequent delay.

The key here is to be proactive. Set aside a healthy contingency fund from the very beginning. Account for extreme weather, manpower shortages, or inventory delays. The more vigilant you are up front, the less you’ll need to scramble in the long run.

4.Subpar Verification Processes 

The first time a piece of equipment is put into use is often when it fails, or exhibits subpar control or performance. For this reason, it is absolutely essential that oil and gas companies implement a disciplined verification and testing process, and that the process is completed every time new equipment is installed and put into operation.

The verification process should be well-documented and approvals should be required at each stage. Inspections should be conducted to determine the equipment condition and safety protocols should be enforced consistently.

5.Tight Timelines That Limit Flexibility

This is a difficult one, but it is also necessary. Most oil and gas companies want to complete their shutdown as fast as humanly possible, and, of course, we understand why— but inadequate flexibility in the schedule of a maintenance project can actually cause more problems than solve them.

No matter how diligent you are in preparing for a shutdown, there will always be unknowns. So, just as you put aside a contingency fund, you should also set aside time. Ask yourself, “What resources and support would we need in place if our project was to be delayed by a number of days or even weeks?”.

If something goes wrong, you’ll want to be prepared instead of reactive.

These common shutdown mistakes remain prevalent in the Alberta oil and gas industry, but by taking due caution and remaining far-sighted, you can improve both productivity and profitability.

Could you benefit from partnering with an Alberta engineering firm that has been delivering an unparalleled quality of service to oil and gas companies for 15+ years? Reach out today. We’d be happy to discuss how we can assist you.


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