Having defined procedures and resources in place is certainly essential for dealing efficiently with an industrial accident, but testing them is especially critical. Accordingly, we decided in 2013 to carry out an exceptionally large-scale exercise simulating a deep-sea well blowout and ensuing oil leak on Block 17 in Angola. Under the code name “Lula,” the drill required a year of preparation and marked a first for the oil and gas industry. Sylvain Degraeve, Crisis & Emergency Response Advisor at TotalEnergies, met with us to answer this question: Five years later, what is the legacy of the Lula exercise?
Please remind us of the objectives of the Lula exercise.
Sylvain Degraeve: Because it was designed on such a large scale and since goals were multiple, this exercice allowed us to test our capacity to deal with a major hydrocarbon leak in the deep offshore. We were able to confirm the importance of an Incident Management System (IMS) in coordinating the response by the local subsidiary, the national and the international authorities and stakeholders. During the exercise, we had an opportunity to deploy, in real time and real conditions, various techniques for stemming a leak at the wellhead and for containing a large oil slick at the surface. In particular, we were able to test the SSDI (Subsea Dispersant Injection) kit for the first time.
What operational conclusions did you draw regarding the attempt to stem a hydrocarbon leak?
S. D.: This exercise gave us our first opportunity at this scale to test the operational deployment of the SSDI kit. Previously, we would only try to disperse the oil once it reached the surface. Thanks to this innovative tool, the dispersant can be injected into the water much closer to the actual source of the leak, near the wellhead on the sea bed, to ensure a smaller environmental impact.
Administrative authorizations, transport from the airport to the offshore rig, determination of the optimal quantity to get the job done…. The Lula exercise allowed us to validate all these parameters, which will save precious time should we ever have cause to deploy the tool in the future.
Lula was also an opportunity to test the Mutual Emergency Assistance Agreement Between Oil Operators In Angola, which calls for a pooling of equipment and technical resources among its signatory companies (BP, Cabinda Gulf Oil Company Limited, ENI, ESSO, SONANGOL).
Finally, we also reinforced our relationships with local NGOs to ensure better protection of vulnerable coastal areas and fauna.
Regarding crisis management, how has Lula changed the approach of TotalEnergies’ E&P subsidiary in Angola?
S. D.: We seized the opportunity to consolidate our crisis management process by backing it with the IMS. Ever since Lula, moreover, we have been carrying out one medium-scale drill every month and one large-scale exercise per year – a policy we will pursue over the long term.
Today, the people who oversee our crisis management are truly expert: they define scenarios in advance and check everyone’s actions during the exercise to identify any areas that need improvement. For each simulation, we draw up a remedial action plan, which we also share with the Group.
We have now clearly identified and differentiated our operational teams for emergency and crisis management. Moreover, we are now equipped with nine “connected” rooms, which give us an overall vision of all our facilities in real time. For example, during the Lula exercise, we were able to monitor the actions implemented at the wellhead thanks to the ROV stationed on the seabed, while drones provided aerial reconnaissance as well.
We also tested our system of personnel on call. For our Angolan subsidiary, we have formalized the positions of Duty Manager and Oil Spill Advisor. Operational staff takes turns as Duty Manager, while the role of Oil Spill Advisor is entrusted to experts in emergency response and crisis management.
What lasting impacts has Lula had on TotalEnergies’ Angolan E&P entity and other TotalEnergies subsidiaries?
S. D.: Since Lula, we have been managing risks such as piracy, a tanker colliding with an FPSO, a fire breaking out in our facilities, etc. by working on about fifteen different crisis scenarios. Moreover, we steadily increase the complexity of the exercises and deploy increasingly innovative techniques. In 2013, our aerial reconnaissance resources were limited to tethered balloons. Today, we use an internationally-acclaimed Best Innovator prize-winning drone.
Prior to Lula, our internal standard for managing emergency and crisis situations was not based on an Incident Management System (IMS). Today, in recognition of its efficience in managing large-scale, complex and prolonged incidents, the use of the IMS was recently approved for all TotalEnergies subsidiaries. TEP Angola is TotalEnergies’ benchmark in this area, and is therefore the entity that hosts our headquarters experts to train them in this tool.