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How We Operate
We develop onshore natural gas projects with a long-term view that measures success in multiple dimensions: economic, social and environmental. We are part of the communities in which we operate, and work diligently to align our development with local needs. We consider each project independently, from the geology to the surrounding environment, and design our activities with innovative approaches that make sense for that area.
We place top priority on protecting the safety of our employees, the communities where we operate and the environment. Our strong safety record is built on strict company standards, multiple required safety barriers, and proven operating methods.
While all Shell onshore exploration and production operations comply with federal, state and provincial regulations, in many cases our design criteria and operating procedures exceed those standards. We believe our practices are among the most comprehensive in the industry. For every project, we develop a thorough “safety case” for each operation, making sure health, safety, security and environmental risks are identified and addressed.
To eliminate or greatly minimize design and operational risks, we add layers of safety by using a multiple-layer barrier system in our well and facility designs. In addition to physical barriers, we employ redundant systems to help prevent a problem from occurring, to monitor well conditions, and to respond and minimize the impact if a problem should occur.
Our operating methods combine decades of experience, state-of-the-art technology, and people expertise for maximum safety and efficiency. Shell drilling employees and contractors are trained in well safety and well control, and all personnel have the authority (and are expected) to stop any job they deem unsafe. In addition, every drilling rig has a safety professional with authority independent from the rig manager.
Shell has redundant systems to closely monitor flow and pressures within the wellbore. In addition to onsite monitoring, we have operation command centers that give us the capability to observe aspects of our drilling operations remotely. Using sensors that are either on the drilling rig or placed in the well, Shell’s engineers and critical service providers can monitor a well’s real time operations, 24 hours a day, from any location with Internet capability. Our employees and contractors are extensively trained to review, detect and prevent or mitigate abnormal conditions if they should occur.
Shell requires a multiple-layer barrier system in its well designs, which greatly minimizes onshore drilling risks.
We choose the steel pipe (casing) for each well based on the specific characteristics of the formation. We use cement between each layer of casing; this holds the casing in place and prevents fluids or gas from flowing into the wellbore or between the pipe and the sides of the hole. Additionally, our wellheads have mechanical seals and locks to prevent gas or fluids from moving up the hole along the outside of the casing.
For high pressure, high temperature and all critical wells, including those in areas where natural gas contains higher levels of sulfur (“sour gas”), we go even further, creating additional barriers inside the well to protect it from erosion or corrosion caused by the chemistry of the sour gas. Our standards meet or exceed industry standards.
We always pressure test barriers within a well, including casing, wellhead and cement. If a pressure or integrity test does not meet Shell’s standards, we always stop and make the appropriate repairs in order to achieve strong barrier integrity. We do not hydraulically fracture wells unless wellbore integrity has been pressure tested and monitored.
(illustration – well diagram close up)
Caption: This well design example shows the multiple barrier layers in place. Note that well designs vary based on geology and regulations.
The Blowout Preventer
It is Shell practice to go beyond regulatory requirements in terms of safety regarding blowout prevention.
The blowout preventer (BOP) is critical safety equipment featuring a configuration of redundant components, designed to secure a well in the event of loss of pressure control. It is vital that all components of the blowout preventer function as designed and intended – at that crucial moment. At Shell, BOPs undergo internal testing requirements in addition to the testing required by regulatory agencies. Should our testing indicate any abnormality in any part of the blowout preventer, drilling operations are suspended and the well is secured until the issue is corrected.
At each casing point (the point at which a section of steel pipe is cemented in the well), or after two weeks, Shell orders a function and pressure test on the BOP. Before drilling further beyond a casing point and beginning a new section, the BOP is again tested for integrity.
Before we even begin to drill a natural gas well, we use a set of practices, collectively called a “safety case,” that draws on our experience and expertise to identify and address the inherent risks in exploration and production. This industry best practice makes sure:
- Health, safety and environment issues are clearly identified and assessed
- Regulatory and Shell global requirements are met
- Risks have been removed or mitigated according to a structured, systematic Shell process, with any remaining risks demonstrated to be both tolerable and as low as reasonably practicable
- Critical safety items and procedures are identified to manage remaining risks
- A comprehensive environmental management plan has been developed
- Social, health, and environment benefits and opportunities are identified
- Personnel roles and responsibilities are indicated.
Our facilities have been designed with the utmost safety in mind. As a further precaution, we conduct ongoing safety training in first aid, rescue, incident command, fire response and emergency response to make sure personnel on site are well prepared to protect both public safety and the environment.
We run frequent internal safety drills, and also conduct community safety drills to help community first responders and others understand our safety procedures and communication processes. The following drills are performed depending on the area and requirements.
- ERP (Emergency Response Plan)
- MER (Medical Emergency Response)
- Rescue from Heights
- Well Control
- Abandon Location
- Spill Response
Fire response is integrated with the abandonment of location drills. Well control drills are simulated to time and test well control response. Hydrogen sulfide response drills are performed if needed to ensure safe evacuation of all personnel from the drilling site and surrounding area.