Offshore Oil and Gas : Secure, Safe

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By Greg Hale, Industrial Safety and Security Source

Safety and security are an important combination in any industry, but when you talk about oil and gas in the offshore environment, the subject definitely ratchets up a few levels – and with good reason.

Attendees and exhibitors at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) 2014 in Houston in early May talked about all issues related to the booming oil and gas market, but at the end of the day, safety and security always ended up a main topic of conversation. And it needs to be.

For good reason as users fret about their hundreds of millions, if not billion, dollar investment and want to keep their platforms up and running so they can make as much product, and profit, as possible. Being able to communicate from the well head all the way through to the enterprise – through disparate systems — remains a vital concern for companies.

Being able to allow that communication becomes a big security concern. But the idea of scaring folks into securing the environment has to change. That approach is old school.

A new approach, and the focus of ISSSource, is to increase awareness about security vulnerabilities and recommend strategies to prevent security breaches.  One solution available to suppliers is OPC UA, which deliberately architects security as part of its core. The specifications have already been recognized by numerous security experts as an important part of the system infrastructure.

With more attacks seeing the light of day, the talk now has focused on process capability and potential resulting consequences. Users need to know what they are trying to achieve and why. No more fear, uncertainty and doubt.

In addition, when you really look at it, data is now more prevalent and abundant for automation professionals, but that also brings some issues that will keep security professionals up at night.

This technology evolution heightens our ways of getting information, but this new connectivity comes with a risk.

The industry used to talk about remote control and now we have it, but that means there are open portals and increased accessibility for a collaborative approach to issues across the globe. But with that accessibility comes a problem where everyone can look in.

To keep things secure, a quick sampling of wares at OTC saw ruggedized safety and security products, a balloon security camera, automated security software, simulations, just to name a few.

With more SCADA systems suffering from more sophisticated attacks and with platforms not necessarily loaded with the latest and greatest security offerings, Palo Alto Networks teamed with the Crystal Group to offer a series of rugged embedded computers and VM-Series firewalls.

Attacks are happening more frequently and platforms are incredibly vulnerable if they don’t have a solid security program. These rugged devices can help stave off any kind of attack, said Yves-Laurent Sivuilu, systems engineer at Palo Alto Networks.

Keeping in line with strategies, the Israel Pavilion at OTC had a series of firms focusing on the offshore oil and gas market, but security was one of the main focuses. As Michal Niddam-Wachsman, the Israel consul head of the economic mission said, most of the security solutions on display at the conference all came from the military because they had to create security solutions. Now they are applying those hardened applications toward industry.

One of those companies is RT Aerostat Systems, which uses balloons floating from 1000 to 1500 feet in the air with a high end camera that can view anything that is happening in the area including unmanned aerial surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition, border and coastal surveillance, intelligence, VIP protection, and search and rescue.

“We just started working on search and rescue and working in a disaster environment,” said Rami Shmueli, managing director at RT.

While RT remains focused more on a physical security standpoint, NextNine is purely about cyber security and how they can automate the environment.

“We allow the brains to do their job remotely so they don’t have to go out to the site,” said Michael Coden, vice president at NextNine. “We can automate the tedious parts of the job that are time consuming and error prone.”

He gave patching as an example. “Our software can download all the relevant patches so individuals don’t have to spend the time doing it,” he said.

He gave one example of a small utility out West. “One person’s entire job is to install patches. His job for 40 hours a week, 50 weeks out of the year is to install patches,” Coden said. “A lot of small companies just won’t patch. Things that are difficult to do, they won’t do it.”

When it comes to safety, or even running a process, everyone has to be on the same page to ensure a smooth running operation, “You have to make sure the teams work together,” said Mahesh Kailasam, solutions experience director of energy, process and utilities at Dassault Systemes. “They all start from the same platform, but sometimes Team A does not know what Team B is doing.”

When it comes to safety, Stephane Declee, vice president of energy, process and utilities at Dassault sees the levels of importance continuing to rise.

“We see constraints and opportunities moving forward,” Declee said. “There are more and more constraints today. What we want to do is connect all the different sectors.”

“It is all about communications,” Kailasam said.

Understanding what the user wants and needs has always been important, but today there really is no room for failure, so that is why communicating with the user from the beginning of a project is imperative.

“We want to engage with the (user) at an early point,” said Luis Gamboa, oil and gas industry solutions manager at Rockwell Automation. “We need to understand what the (user) is going to do.”

While safety remains job one on any platform, the idea of keeping the system running to generate more product also is vital. The catch is, both those ideas can – and should – work together.

“Protecting the environment, assets and people are important values in safety strategies,” Gamboa said. “Making safety decisions based on compliance and social responsibilities is one thing, but shutdowns cost money. We have to engage in safety strategies to keep systems up and running.”

Gregory Hale is the Editor and Founder of Industrial Safety and Security Source (ISSSource.com).