Argon has improved the operations and safety of the offshore gas and oil industry

Newswise — Offshore oil and gas operations are a testament to the capabilities of today's industry. Routine processes mask significant complexity. Continuous operation is essential. Operations affect the regional economy and worker safety, as well as the environment.

Now the National Academies of Sciences have endorsed a dynamic project that promises to improve offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico. A team of scientists led by researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory will use a methodology known to ensure that complex objects work as they should.

The team has experience in this arena. In 2020, Argonne was selected to improve the safety of offshore natural gas operations in the Eastern Mediterranean. This project included the requirements of the method used by Argon – the success path method – an international quality management standard accepted by the world's industries.

“This evolving offshore environment is changing the nature of risks and requires an approach that helps improve the Gulf community and its energy systems. Our work will focus on improving the security and livelihoods of affected communities in the Gulf.” – Bruce Hamilton, Argonne Program Manager Global Energy Solutions

Argon also used the methodology to improve the Safety and Environmental Protection Bureau's safety process. The US agency is dedicated to promoting safety, protecting the environment and conserving offshore resources.

The Path of Success method was developed to improve safety in high-stakes activities. For example, it is useful in the design of nuclear power plants so that the plants can withstand severe natural hazards. It focuses on what needs to be done right. The scientists concluded that this focus was more valuable for decision-making than trying to identify the near-infinite number of ways things could go wrong. It breaks down complex processes or activities into all the components and actions required for successful execution. It can then integrate this information into the larger safety system and safety culture, helping people understand the roles they play in key processes.

One of the strengths of the approach is that it can be used to evaluate any complex and complex process. This makes it attractive to many industries and regulatory bodies.

Dave Grabaskas, group manager of licensing and risk assessment in Argonne's Nuclear Sciences and Engineering (NSE) division, said he believes the team's work will have an immediate and positive impact in the Gulf.

“The offshore oil and gas industry voluntarily and anonymously shares information about component failures or system failures with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics,” Grabaskas said. ​“Our team will be able to use this data to see where the industry is currently facing operational or security issues. We hope to reach these areas first. This is a great example of how the industry can come together and work together to improve safety and reliability across the industry.”

Bruce Hamilton, team leader and program manager for Argonne's Energy Systems Infrastructure and Analysis (ESIA) division, agrees.

“We will direct our work to improve the security and livelihoods of the affected communities in the Gulf,” he said. ​”Changes in the offshore environment in the Gulf of Mexico are already changing the nature of risks.

For example, Hamilton noted that climate change is contributing to more frequent severe weather events. As a result, the US is transitioning to new types of energy activities, including Carbon capture and storageHydrogen projects and infrastructure, offshore wind generation and additional electrification of offshore oil and gas installations. These and future changes, Hamilton said, require an approach that helps improve the security of the Gulf community and its energy systems.

“The core of the Argonne program is the collection and analysis of sustained safety data,” Hamilton said. ​”Together with partners in industry and academia, we can develop training curricula so that enhanced safety assessment methods are taught in universities and educate a new generation of oil and gas professionals.”

Researchers from Tulane University, the University of Houston, and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics will work closely with Argonne's ESIA and NSE research team. The Argonne NSE team also includes nuclear engineers Ben Chen and Vera Moisitseva. The ESIA team includes systems scientist Sinem Perk.

Argonne National Laboratory Seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. As the nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts advanced basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state, and municipal agencies to help them solve specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership, and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 countries, Argonne is run UChicago Argonne, LLC for US Department of Energy Office of Science.

US Department of Energy Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information visit