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Floodgates open on bad news for Royal Dutch Shell

FROM A SHELL INSIDER

John

Looks like you opened some floodgates on bad news for Shell the last few weeks! I don’t understand how you can keep up with all the dataflows.

The recent note from the Canadian operator is pretty serious. This obviously is a man who knows what he talks about and has high personal standards.

Shell Canada Insider Speaks Out

Exactly the type of person you would want on your plant, but dangerous and awkward for many managers who are looking for quick bucks, low hanging fruit, early success, breakthrough performance, olympic targets and whatever other jargon is used to cut costs…. I don’t know if you are aware just how toxic H2S is. Often in communications to the general public it is related to the smell of rotten eggs but in reality it is as toxic as Hydrogen Cyanide – HCN (Prussic Acid), the stuff used in detective novels…. (And by the way in the gaschambers in Germany as well as in the suicide capsules they used).

In the oil business we all know how dangerous H2S is, the public at large most likely not. Inhaling a concentration of 1000 ppm (0.1% in volume) means instantaneous death. Above 200 ppm you pass out within seconds.  In a plant where they process gas with 30% H2S this is 300.000 ppm….. And H2S has another feature: you need quite exotic (= seriously expensive) materials such as pipes and vessels to handle it, regular and higher grade steel becomes brittle in no time and cracks. This is Sulfide Stress Cracking.

To put it in simple terms: if one starts to f*ck around with maintenance standards in these type of plants, to me that is just criminal behaviour. You should always keep looking for improvements (= better at lower costs). But often it is only the costcutting that is visible in the short term, pulls in the bonus and the fellow who does this is transferred when the problems start.

Comment from a former employee of Shell Oil USA

John,

The fellow who commented on H2S and the Canadian plant maintenance conditions is absolutely correct.

On an annual basis accidental and inadvertent H2S gas poisoning is the single largest cause of worker fatalities in the oil industry.

Only certain steel alloys will tolerate high concentrations of H2S. And H2S is indeed one of the deadliest gases around. This fellow is correct when he states that Shell management is engaging in criminal negligence by neglecting plant maintenance. One pipe leak or leaky value is all it would take to kill some plant workers, and very quickly.

In the US Shell operated a field near Thomasville, Mississippi. This was where the infamous Cox #1 blowout occurred in the early 1970’s. The gas in that field had very high concentrations of H2S, over 30% as I recall. In order to produce these wells safely Shell USA (which was well managed in those days) instituted its own quality standards for piping, tubular, and well head equipment. It was called Shell N.A.C.E. Shell standards were higher than normal oil industry N.A.C.E. standards. (links available from John Donovan on request).

Shell even had its own inspectors at the Cameron Ironworks facilities checking and certifying the wellhead equipment as it came off the production line.

I began my term at Shell as a production engineer and was well versed in ‘sour gas’ production procedures and equipment standards. But that was over 20 years ago. In those days (before Shell USA was taken over by RD Shell) Shell USA did not screw around with H2S like the Canadians seem to have been doing in their gas plants recently. In fact, I will bet that Shell Canada, when is was an independent subsidiary from RD Shell, didn’t screw around either.

These sorts of maintenance shortcuts and lack of regard for worker and public safety seem to be a hallmark of the way RD Shell operates.

Local plant management clearly didn’t and probably still doesn’t give a lust crap about worker safety. The bottom line was and probably still is all that matters. Staff and public health and safety were and probably still are considered ‘expendable’, and part of the unnecessary ‘overhead’ of operation.

All levels of Shell management responsible for the decisions that have led to the poor maintenance and hazardous working conditions in those gas plants should be terminated for cause. Their lack of good judgment, and concern for the safety of their staff, and the public in general, is more that sufficient cause for such action.

1 Comment on “Floodgates open on bad news for Royal Dutch Shell”

  1. #1 ilikesoup
    on Feb 12th, 2011 at 17:09

    “On an annual basis accidental and inadvertent H2S gas poisoning is the single largest cause of worker fatalities in the oil industry”

    Not even remotely true.

    Look at worker injury data on the WCB website and you will see that H2S poisoning is actually pretty rare.

    Biggest causes of worker fatalities in petro industry are being caught between objects, or falls from heights. And oil / gas industry is much safer than working in the construction industry, in terms of incident severity (fatalities), compared to construction or even agriculture. Get your facts straight.

    “I began my term at Shell as a production engineer and was well versed in

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