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SPE 86632

Safety in Decommissioning and Remediation of Remote Sites

Timothy R. Taylor / Petro-Canada

Copyright 2004, Society of Petroleum Engineers Inc.

This paper was prepared for presentation at The Seventh SPE International Conference on
Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production held in Calgary,
Alberta, Canada, 2931 March 2004.
This paper was selected for presentation by a SPE Program Committee following review of
information contained in a proposal submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as
presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to
correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any
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Every year oil and gas fields play out their useful economic
life. Once production ceases, the facilities are often suspended
awaiting their ultimate fate. In this time lag, until the sites are
decommissioned and remediated, much will deteriorate. Also,
during this period, infrastructure in remote regions often
departs south, leaving the environmental project with a wide
range of challenges that are not encountered in less remote
Any decommissioning project can have many safety hazards.
In a remote project, these hazards are magnified because of the
difficulty in getting resources or emergency aid.
For example, the discovery of asbestos can endanger
unprepared workers; it can delay the project while qualified
contractors are retained and it will increase costs.
For a remote site, the solution is to plan, plan and plan for both
the expected and a contingency plan for the unexpected. The
first step in planning the project is to complete a hazard
Hazard Assessment
Identification of the site hazards is the critical first step in
developing the safety plan. A site visit is usually the only way
to determine the hazards. The site visit should always be
conducted in summer, as many features and hazards are
hidden during the winter, when the work will typically be
In todays era of computer aided drawings, it seems unlikely
that there could be no drawings or other records of the site, but
facilities that were built in the 50s, 60s and 70s may only
have the most rudimentary written documentation. Therefore,

during the site visit it is imperative to photograph and

inventory everything of significance to allow for proper
planning. A typical hazard analysis is shown in Table 1.
Identify Scope of Project
With any project, it is important to define the project goals.
The project plan and safety plan can then be written to support
the goals. The scope of remedial projects can typically

Environmental assessment
Facility decommissioning
Soil remediation

In the Canadian and American north the decommissioning

project is more likely to occur in the winter because of the
need for winter roads.
Facility decommissioning and
environmental assessments are easily achievable in winter
with a good logistics and safety plan.
Remediation is more difficult and is not always possible in
cold weather. If heavy equipment is needed for remediation,
you may be required to mobilize the equipment in winter to be
left there until summer.
Regulatory Requirements
It is important to review regulatory requirements while writing
the safety plan. Simple things like First Aid training and
Medic qualification are different for each of Alberta, British
Columbia, NWT and Alaska. Workers should have the
training and support required by each jurisdiction. The
approach advocated here does not address regulations, but
provides a management framework to address compliance.
Fort Nelson

Fort Nelson is located 142 kilometers from the 60th parallel.

The author coordinated the decommissioning of three central
gas dehydrator facilities and a salt spill site that was located a
further 135 kilometers away. The last 40 kilometers of road is
simply frozen seismic lines cleared of snow.

The safety plans discussed here were developed the hard way
as various issues arose during the projects including the author
getting lost en route to a site.

SPE 86632

Table 1: Hazard Analysis

Decommissioning and Remediation Hazard Analysis

Location: ________________________________
Date ____________
Construction Date: _________________
Hazard Class
Field Results






On-Site Storage

State of



Sour or Sweet
Liquids (condensate, crude)
Season for project to be completed
Average precipitation
Average temperature
Year round access available
Winter road required
Airstrip or helipad available
Flying time to nearest serviced airstrip
Distance to nearest hospital
Cell phone coverage
Site size
Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials
PCBs (Was the facility built before 1975?)
Used oils
Odour potentials
Onsite Lab / lab chemicals
Are pipes blinded
Vessels degassed
Electrical power shut off
Fuel gas
Hazardous wastes?
How was domestic waste handled?
Closest appropriate landfill
Is incineration allowed
Underground storage tanks
Above ground tanks
Waste Barrels Inventory. Can contents be
identified? Are barrels sound?
Are there wells associated with the facility
and were they suspended properly?
Were piping and vessels gas free and a
corrosion inhibitor used?
Are there any hazards or sensitivities?
Bear activity

Was there an on-site camp

Evidence of hantavirus or rodents
Other animals in residence

Gas Monitor

H2S Alive

Spill kits
Winter clothing


Fuel cache

Satellite Phone
Hand held radio



Sample bottles
Lab Pack

Steam truck


Oversize barrels

Various blind
Pepper spray,
bear bangers,
air horns


SPE 86632

Developing A Safety Plan

Safety plans for decommissioning and remediation of remote
sites are different from those at sites near services because of
the need for self-sufficiency. A good plan can only be
developed from a sound hazard analysis.
Some key
considerations for the safety plan include:

Access should be planned carefully to allow workers and
equipment to reach the site in a safe and secure manner. In the
event of an emergency you must be able to access or obtain
support. The safety plan should have:

E-mail. E-mail can be achieved using cell technology, but

it is slow. Consideration should be given to using
dedicated IDs where attachments are not permitted. The
attachments can make a system non-functional because of
slow speed.
Satellite handheld phones. If cell phones do not work, a
satellite phone will usually work. Ensure workers know
how to use them, as they often have complicated dialing
Their disadvantages include cost and a
conversational time delay.
Satellite dish systems. These are the most expensive
communication systems, but can handle data and voice


Maps. Is a clear map available to all workers who will

access the site? It is important to have a map and
instructions drawn up and distributed at the kick-off
meeting. The use of GPS units should be encouraged.
Specialized software programs currently enable the use of
moving map technology on laptops and handheld units.
Check-ins. When workers are scheduled to be in-transit a
check-in system should be used to ensure they reach their
Tracking services may be available
Snow clearing services should be reliable and timely.
Ensure the contractor has the equipment and knowledge
to perform the work safely.
Emergency rescues. Identify who is responsible for these
tasks and get their contact information.
Preparation for transportation, treatment and extraction of
injured workers. If the hospital is nearby, field first aid
skills are less critical as ambulances can reach the site. If
the site is remote, special consideration for first aid, medic
skills and equipment is required.
Contingency transportation in event of an emergency. A
helipad should be considered if emergency rescue is to be
by air.

The project will need to have adequate communication that is
tested and functional. In populated areas cell phone use is
taken for granted. Remote sites may not have this luxury. The
communication plan will allow workers to communicate with
each other, emergency services, support services and the home
Communication services can include:

Radio. Inexpensive handheld radios can allow workers to

communicate effectively on-site up to three kilometres.
Boosted sets can allow further distances and are ideal for
longer projects, but are more expensive to set-up.
Cell phones. Ideally suited because of their low cost and
mass availability. Coverage can be quite surprising the
Mackenzie Delta in the Canadian Northwest Territories
has quite good coverage! Bag cell phones, although less
common, do have a greater range.

The safety plan must address how workers and equipment will
reach the site safely. Check-in points and satellite tracking
systems should be considered. Vehicles going to the site must
be capable of reaching it safely. Four wheel drive vehicles can
help but are no guarantee of safety. All trucks should have:

Winter survival gear

Appropriate tires
Chains if appropriate
Communications device
Recent mechanical check
Handheld Global Position System (GPS) unit
First aid kit

Many jurisdictions have specific legal requirements for the

first aid kit depending on the task and size of the crew.
Fuel should be available at the project site for emergency refueling. Signs are also useful to help drivers confirm they are
on the right roads.
In the north, winter can be a dangerous time. It is important to
have reliable weather forecasts and should be a part of the trip
planning. Forecasts should be reviewed as part of the daily
tailgate meeting.
It is important to remember that in a blizzard, even short
distances can be extremely hazardous for travel. Contingency
plans must be made to accommodate workers in case of a
decision to not travel. The contingency plan should include
provision for shelter, food and water and boredom. The lack
of any of these will sometimes drive people to take additional
Daylight Hours
With a decommissioning or remediation project occurring in
the winter it is important to understand the hours of work and
the hours of light. If light is not long enough or even
available, consider generators and lights. However, powered

SPE 86632

light has some distinct limitations because of shadows and

may require task planning or seasonal planning. For example
February or March may be better to work in than December.

facility, it must be gas and liquid free. The hazard analysis

should have identified the state of suspension.

If workers are not familiar with the daylight hours, consider

including a discussion in the kick-off meeting. 24-hours of
darkness can be quite disconcerting!

With a combination of steam truck and vacuum truck, piping

systems should be made gas and liquid free prior to
decommissioning. A welder is essential to make secure
connections for these services.


Spill Contingency Plan

Poor accommodations can present a safety concern as well as

effect productivity. If field staff is worried about how dry or
warm they will be at night, how can they concentrate on their

Although most developed oil and gas fields are covered by a

mature spill cooperative, remote suspended sites have slightly
different needs. Coop equipment is often a long distance away
and may not be well suited for the type of small spills that can
be expected on a remediation or decommissioning project.
Spills are often of fuel, small volumes of chemicals or fluids in
piping and vessels.

Remote sites generally have no convenient hotel, so workers

typically reside in work camps. The safety plan should ensure
that the camps have:

Adequate capacity. Workers should have as much

consistency as possible in accommodation
Recent health and safety inspection
Emergency plan
Water and sewage systems that meet regulations
Good meals

Waste Management Plan

Decommissioned equipment needs to be flushed and cleaned
of all hazardous materials. The hazardous material must then
be treated and disposed of. In winter where access is by ice
road or aerial access, hazardous waste disposal can be
dangerous and expensive.
A waste management plan is important to ensure waste is
disposed safely and efficiently. The plan should identify each
type of waste likely to be encountered during the project and
should also include:

Storage requirements
Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifications
Manifest requirements
Treatment/disposal options
Transportation requirements
Waste contractors

The plan should be developed in consultation with both local

regulations and the regulations of the provinces or states
through which the waste will be transported and disposed.
If there was a camp on-site requiring decommissioning, years
of disuse may make it hazardous to human health. On some
sites the best solution, if regulations allow, is to have a very
large campfire. The ashes will be much safer to clean up.
Decontamination Plan
Before work can begin on the actual deconstruction of the

A spill kit is a useful component to the project. The size will

vary from a kit bag in the truck to a shipping container of
supplies and will depend on the scope of the project.
Consideration for the spill kits should include:

Absorbent rope for creating barriers
Absorbent pads
Drip trays
Gloves and disposable coveralls
Garbage bags for oily debris
Barrels for recovered materials.
containers for the spill equipment.

These make ideal

A spill first aid sheet is recommended. It should include

regulatory contacts, reporting thresholds and a basic spill
report form.
Emergency Response
After completing the hazard assessment and establishing the
management plans, the emergency response plan should be
easy to put together. It should establish the contingencies for
each potential emergency.
There are many standards for writing an emergency plan like
the Canadian Standards Association CAN/CSA-Z731-03
Emergency Preparedness and Response.
model is chosen, the plan should be easy to follow and ideally
written by the project team. The project team including field
supervisors and logistics specialists should be familiar with the
The need for first aid attendants or medics should be
considered in consultation with the regulations.
jurisdiction has slightly different requirements.
One useful addition to the plan is to have a one-page summary
of the plan with phone numbers attached to the backside of the
site map.

SPE 86632


Include in the meeting:

Qualifications for workers

A decommissioning project will require several different skills

that are well understood in the oil and gas industry, like
welders and heavy equipment operators.
Less well understood, is the need to bring workers with the
right attitude for remote work. Their workplace is a long way
from home, cold and with few amenities. After work there is
little to do. The project team must select workers and
contractors used to working in this environment.

Review of on-site hazards

Ground disturbance procedures
Weather and temperature
Muster points
Emergency procedures
Review of unusual or critical tasks
Road conditions

The meeting should be documented and all on-site workers

should be signed in.
Personal Protective Equipment

From the hazard assessment, the project team will be able to
predict the training qualifications needed for workers. In
addition to the basic training for Transportation of Dangerous
Goods (TDG), hazard information systems and first aid, other
basic skills may be needed.

Driving is often the most hazardous task consider the

need for workers to have collision avoidance training and
basic cold survival training.
Often respirators must be used. Workers should be fitted
for their masks and understand how to use them.

In the United States, much of this training is included in the

U.S Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) Hazardous Waste Operations and
Emergency Response Standard (HAZWOPER) certification.
Hire locally
As part of the field hazard assessment, it is important to
determine what resources are available locally.
resources may be able to help the project team understand:

Site history
Local logistical support availability
Weather impacts
Road conditions

Specialists will still be required, especially for tasks like

asbestos removal, but the inclusion of local knowledge will
greatly increase the chance of success in completing the
project on time and safely.

Working in the cold can be very hazardous. It is important to

ensure that anyone going to the site, even visitors, bring warm
clothing. Fire retardant outer clothing is still recommended, as
there are many flammable hazards in a suspended oil and gas
Standard protective equipment issued in the south may not
work well in the winter. For example safety goggles or face
shields will rapidly fog up creating a greater hazard than they
protect. Use common sense in developing the site policy.
When selecting other equipment like gas detectors, make sure
they will work in the cold or make sure they can be warmed
up regularly.
Project Logistics
Most winter projects have additional timing difficulties.
Where access can only be made using ice roads, the project
must wait until the roads are ready and it must be complete
before break-up. Winter storms can quickly delay a project as
they can stop all work.
The ability to get needed equipment and workers to the site on
time is therefore much greater. Safety equipment must arrive
with the workers.
Consider using a logistics specialist to support the plan during
the field component. The specialist will have the ability to get
supplies and equipment to the site quickly and safely and will
likely save you money.
When choosing expert help, make sure that the skills match
the task.

Kick-off Meeting and Tailgate Meetings

Tailgate meetings are important to review the daily hazards of
the job. The difference in a remote site is where they are held.
If held outside in the cold, workers attention can drift. The
meetings should be held in a protected area, like the dining
area of camp.

As the site is being decommissioned and remediated, progress

should be carefully documented. The documentation should

Line location drawings for underground utilities

Tailgate meetings
Spill and event reports

SPE 86632

Waste manifests for all wastes removed from the site

Time sheets
Photographs are exceptionally helpful in documenting
work progress

Decommissioning and remediation projects of remote sites
require significant planning, including a detailed safety plan.
Attention to detail will lead to a safer work environment.
The author wishes to acknowledge all who have reviewed and
commented on this paper and in particular special
acknowledgement to Dean Wall and Caroll Taylor for their
challenge and encouragement to finish this paper.