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Chevron Got North Sea Contract Despite IT Safety Crashes 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-go-wrong dept.
DMandPenfold writes "The UK government gave Chevron the go-ahead in September to drill in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland, in spite of the US oil giant's admission that its contractor's spill prediction software constantly crashed and was not a reliable predictor of how far oil could travel if an accident took place. The news comes in a week that US investigations into BP's disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit the buffers, after an IT contractor firm refused to hand over access to its software."
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Chevron Got North Sea Contract Despite IT Safety Crashes

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  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @03:15AM (#34497886) Homepage
    Oil and government... do mix.
    • by DWMorse (1816016)

      Making the government all that much more flammable... hmmm.

      Operation Guy Fawkes, anyone? ;)

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        Look, what you want and vote for, and whatnot... They don't matter.

        Laws? Keep you distracted. They are for little folk. Don't you break one! But they don't apply to OWNERS.

        You see, they will do what they want and get what they want, anyway.

      • by fantomas (94850) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @05:25AM (#34498426)

        You do know that Guy Fawkes was fighting to replace one monarchy with another? That his intention was not to get rid of Parliament but rather to kill Protestant Christians and replace them with Catholic Christians and maintain the political status quo (a group of rich, landed members of Parliament serving a monarch), just change England from Protestant to Catholic rule?

        I think a lot of people cheer Guy Fawkes because they think he was standing up for democracy and overthrowing tyrannical states whereas I am pretty sure the situation was that he just wanted to overthrow one religious authority with another. He wanted the same political system (monarch served by ineffectual unrepresentative MPs) just a different religious flavour.

        His goal was to replace King James the first of England (and sixth of Scotland) with his nine year old daughter princess Elizabeth.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by h00manist (800926)
          IMHO.... Guy-Fawkes-Anonymous guys should get smart, read, and analyze what they're getting into. Bombing parliament-type strategies might have been considered standard revolution practice when Fawkes was around (and make great movie scripts), but now it seems pretty widely considered counterproductive and obsolete. It seems that real wars now take place at the level of espionage, corruption, media manipulation, and legal-political cheating. Which is why WikiLeaks is effective. Violence is still widely use
        • People like Fawkes because he tried to blow a lot of shit up. That's it, that's all the appeal.

          There is no appeal to reason or intelligence with who Fawkes was or what he stood for, there's no ideological affinity. People get angry at government, for valid and invalid reasons, and fantasies of just blowing all of it to kingdom come makes Fawkes a folk hero in that way, and that way only. All people know is that he tried to bomb the whole government, that's good enough for them.

          There's no analysis or intelli

        • by sjames (1099)

          I think it's mostly because fire is cool and everyone can relate to wanting to blow up Parliament from time to time. Since they're not actually going to do it and (usually) don't actually want it done, the analysis stops there.

    • by Mordie (1943326)
      Penguin 1: what’s all that black shit? Penguin 2: I honestly don’t have a fucken clue Wildlife observer 1: did some oil company just make another huge fuckup Wildlife Observer 2: time to pack the gear and head home before the penguins get pissed
  • Oil deposits in the North sea have been propping up the British economy for decades now. While the UK is facing a big deficit, and getting stung by other economies in the Eurozone looking wobbly, they'd probably overlook a few things to get their hands on the money. -So much for a 'greener' coalition!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MrQuacker (1938262)
      The positions that control contracts like this are all controlled by tenured bureaucrats, regardless of what "face" the rest of the government is wearing this election period.
    • by rmstar (114746)

      Oil deposits in the North sea have been propping up the British economy for decades now.

      Did you know that the British oil industry is subsidized by tax money?

    • Oil deposits in the North sea have been propping up the British economy for decades now.

      which has rather annoyed the Scots themselves who have the odd situation where the Scots have elected a nationalist government [snp.org] (who support an independent-from-the-uk scotland) but cannot get independence itself because the English vote is 9 times the size of the Scottish vote. The UK won't let Scotland go because of the oil revenue but since the 1980's Thatcher government has moved as many national assets as it can out of Scotland, e.g. in the last 20 years (coinciding with the rise in strength in indepen

      • by LizardKing (5245)

        Oil deposits in the North sea have been propping up the British economy for decades now.

        which has rather annoyed the Scots

        Truth is, their policitians are quite happy with the current status quo, where most of the money comes from the rest of the UK to be largely spent as the Scottish parliament sees fit.

    • Curious choice of words there. It sounds like you're not too happy about the UK drilling for oil off its shores? Green concerns, or other?

      I suppose that oil is propping up the UK economy in the same way that agriculture props up the US economy?

      • It's not a curious choice of words to use "propping up" in reference to a non-renewable, non-human-made, finite resource a country just happens to be sitting on. The UAE government will tell you all about that.

        • That's a reasonably valid point. Certainly true of the UK and many other countries as well. We all seem to be using up our mineral reserves at terrific rates.

          I often despair that the UK doesn't invest in renewable energy research and development more, seeing as it is a windy set of islands on the edge of a huge ocean. Lots of challenges but potentially huge amounts of renewable energy always going to be available, waves rolling in from thousands of miles and fairly blowy at times too.

    • by h00manist (800926)
      Yes but this concept that "humanity will perish" or "national security will collapse" or "the economy will collapse" if oil just disappeared is pretty pathetic, but apparently effective for the many people who grew up hearing about the rapture, the apocalypse and all that. Humanity has overcome quite a few much greater challenges. Replacing oil power will not exactly be the end of civilization.
      • Yes but this concept that "humanity will perish" or "national security will collapse" or "the economy will collapse" if oil just disappeared is pretty pathetic, but apparently effective for the many people who grew up hearing about the rapture, the apocalypse and all that. Humanity has overcome quite a few much greater challenges. Replacing oil power will not exactly be the end of civilization.
        You're right end of oil power will not be the end of civilization, assuming you live in the tropics, near where y
  • What price safety? Obviously only a few billion.
  • It's pretty clear that any obstacle to oil drilling anywhere just means it costs more money. The bribes paid to officials to allow it are small compared to the $BILLIONS it costs to do the rest, and of course much smaller than the many $BILLIONS the well produces.

    Even when the damage done by the drilling can't be repaired with money. And even when the money spent on getting the drilling done is not spent on the people (or other living things) damaged by it.

    I am sick of waiting for the goddamn oil to run out

    • Re:Oil Money (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrQuacker (1938262) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @03:55AM (#34498086)
      As one prof of mine said:

      When you understand the unique chemicals and items we can synthesize out of this ancient black goop, you realize how stupid we are for simply burning it.

      That's a lot of potential plastic...

      • As one prof of mine said:

        When you understand the unique chemicals and items we can synthesize out of this ancient black goop, you realize how stupid we are for simply burning it.

        That's a lot of potential plastic...

        Why do you mention it as if it were a good thing [google.com]?

        • Yet another horrific waste of petrochemicals. If humanity were able to think long-term, there wouldn't be big deposits of waste plastic lying around anywhere except at a recycling plant.

  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @04:00AM (#34498100) Homepage

    People have been drilling in deep water in the North Sea for decades, with admittedly a couple of nasty accidents [wikipedia.org], but so far things have gone pretty well. And do you know what? No-one had oil spill prediction software when they started. They relied on the skill and experience of the people operating the rigs.

    Bear in mind that this is the UK, where we have far, far tighter safety regulations than the US for the oil industry. We know what we're doing. Oil companies in the US clearly don't, or don't care to do it properly.

    • by Required Snark (1702878) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @04:33AM (#34498228)
      The worst oil rig disaster, in terms of lives lost, in history. 1988, the North Sea.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_Alpha [wikipedia.org]

      "An explosion and resulting fire destroyed it on July 6, 1988, killing 167 men, with only 59 survivors. The death toll includes two crewmen of a rescue vessel. Total insured loss was about £1.7 billion (US$ 3.4 billion). At the time of the disaster the platform accounted for approximately ten percent of North Sea oil and gas production, and was the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact."

      "People were still getting off the platform several hours after the initial fires and explosions. The main problem was that most of the personnel who had the authority to order evacuation had been killed when the first explosion destroyed the control room. This was a consequence of the platform design, including the absence of blast walls. Another contributing factor was that the nearby connected platforms Tartan and Claymore continued to pump gas and oil to Piper Alpha until its pipeline ruptured in the heat in the second explosion. Their operations crews did not believe they had authority to shut off production, even though they could see that Piper Alpha was burning."

      • by Aeternitas827 (1256210) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @04:51AM (#34498294)
        Shit is blowing up and burning around you...and you do nothing because you don't believe you have the authority to do anything (at least, anything significant)?

        One hell of a corporate indoctrination seminar that had to be. I'm sorry, but if it were me, shit were blowing up, flaming out, people getting killed, it really wouldn't matter to me who had told me I couldn't do X, Y, and/or Z, if X, Y, and/or Z could at least prevent things from going from worse to OMFG (and provided I had the ability to do those things--else I'd be all 'see ya later bye'). When it's life and limb, only the guy with a uniform, badge, and gun is in charge.
        • by cbope (130292)

          And just how exactly is Joe Grunt Sixpack supposed to know that shutting off valve #3983 on a control panel full of other valves, controls and switches, is going to have a positive effect on the flaming inferno on the next platform?

          Not to mention, in these days of litigation-happy and point-your-finger gotta-blame-somebody corporate culture, do you want to be the one to find out?

          Sorry, just isn't going to happen. You can't have a solid set of contingency plans when your original design is full of flaws. Esp

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Sure, but then after the disaster is over you find that you are fired, a scapegoat, and unemployable.

          This is really just a case of long-term self-preservation vs short-term self-preservation.

          Maybe if companies weren't able to get away with sleazy safety practices then people wouldn't be more afraid for their jobs than their lives.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I work offshore in the UK and can tell you this:

          Since Piper Alpha, among the dozens of mandatory safety improvements designed to prevent such a catastrophe from ever unfolding to the state it can attain (total destruction/gas fire/melted steel) is the addition of the Station Bill.

          Advice is, to read it so you know what to do in an emergency, usually showing the rig outline with lifeboats etc. Of course, nobody does so it's on the back of all the toilet stall doors.

          In the middle, in bright red lettering are w

        • When it's life and limb, only the guy with a uniform, badge, and gun is in charge.

          And that is why I love "Walking Dead". :)

        • by omglolbah (731566)

          Authority is mostly about who has physical access to the required 'big red button' so to speak.

          If the control room is gone and you have major errors in the control system you could be in a state where it is not possible to call a general evacuation -or- operate equipment.

          Such a state -must- cause everything to go to a fail-safe position. This is industry standard these days but was not in the past.

        • There were emergency evacuation plans in place. These were put in place because people had sat down in a calm setting and worked out the best ways to get everyone safely off the platform. There are temporary refuges on (most) platforms. These are designed to keep you safe from the fires/explosions for at least an hour. When it looks like the fires are serious enough that you have to get right off the platform there are more plans that will get everyone off safely - everyone jumping off the side usually lead

        • by thegarbz (1787294)
          What is significant? All people on your tiny isolated platform with authority are dead, the only ones left are the working plebs. What can you do that is significant other than fucking run and dive over the edge.

          You can get to an escape raft and hope that 50 other people came too.
          You can get to an escape raft and launch it by yourself potentially killing 50 other people.
          You can jump over the edge of an oil platform from a height of which will likely cause you to break your legs when you hit the water.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Yeah, but if there's a spill it could turn Scotland into a bleak shithole.

    • by okooolo (1372815)
      People have been drilling in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico for decades, with admittedly a couple of nasty accidents but so far things have gone pretty well. And do you know what? No-one had oil spill prediction software when they started. They relied on the skill and experience of the people operating the rigs.
      How reasonable does it sound now?
  • Is that like weather prediction software?
  • Maybe wasnt so good idea to make Rovio to design that software, but hey, maybe we could finally find where those pigs hid the eggs.
  • I'm not a modelling guru but I've delved a little into current and weather modelling and it's not simple stuff. The inputs would vary depending on the weather conditions and weather predictions change significantly over that time. The best you could hope for would by a dynamic model that updated daily and became less reliable the further away from now that you went. Having a model that predicted where the spill was headed after the spill occured so you could direct clean up to the most effective places on
    • either way, your liability is low because you are modeling for something that is "never supposed to happen" and even if it does it is easy to blame some condition that could not have conceivably been taken into account by your model
  • This isn't actually that huge a deal. No matter what the conditions are in the location they want to put the platform, any sort of large spill would be Real Bad.

    The important part here is not to let a spill happen in the first place, and the spill prediction software has nothing really to do with that.

  • Isnt BP british, and now another one is going under the radar and getting deals to drill right away....come on people, what is it going to take, that the US invade the brits before they learn their lessons. Seriously, this is about as stupid as one can get, throw more money at the problem no matter how bad it ends up in the end.....f*ckin greedy bastards!

    Take some of the US army send them over to the brit ilses, and force their way into the Queens chambers, and say,
    "there we do not care for your laws either

  • by Halo- (175936) on Thursday December 09, 2010 @12:07PM (#34501610)

    In Chevron’s North Sea drill, the oil firm said the spill modelling software usually crashed when left to run for long periods of time, adding that this was typical of standard industry systems.

    If your software crashes when run for long periods, the root cause is almost always one of the following:

    • Memory Leaks
    • Boundary Overflow/Underflow (of either buffers or types)
    • Race Conditions

    None of these should be present in the "standard industry systems" of multi-billion (trillion?) dollar industries, especially if they pertain the safety systems. Memory leaks and boundary overflow/underflow are trivial to avoid by any programmer who takes the time to code defensively. Race conditions can be a bit harder to detect and avoid, but they are a less common issue, and handling them is well within the expectations of even a newly-graduated programmer.

    There are also more esoteric error conditions. For example, in locations which are higher above sea-level, the "average neutron flux density" (i.e. number of cosmic rays hitting your chips) is higher, and thus the incidence of random transient faults in electronics is higher. It is not unheard of in large computer clusters to have the occasional bit-flip error in RAM due to a random cosmic ray. At the same time, these systems have built-in checkpointing, and when for whatever reason the running software develops a fault, the entire system can roll back to the last known good checkpoint, and restart.

    Serious customers would never accept a system or simulator which exhibited the sorts of problems these "industry standard systems" seem to be plagued with. More to the point, I have worked indirectly with some petroleum companies on simulation software, and know for a fact the acceptable "unrecoverable error rate" was written into the contract in a very forceful way. Then again, the simulation software was being used to locate oil, so I guess that says something about the industries priorities. (And it was designed to run on a "real" cluster)

    • by sjames (1099)

      I have seen a LOT of brittle HPC code. It may have little or no input error checking.. It could also be that someone decided that if -O3 speeds it up, -O6 will be even better. Of course, any -O level above 3 (and sometimes -O3 as well) may sacrifice correctness in some cases for more speed. Sometimes compiling -O6 yields impressive speedups, sometimes it fails validation.

      It's fairly common for modeling software to be written by specialists in the field who took a few semesters of FORTRAN rather than by prog

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