Real Time Predictive Analysis Tool Aims to Prevent Another Piper Alpha

Preventing oil spill

Aberdeen’s Opex Group and an industrial behavioural psychologist are designing a tool that will combine data from diagnostic surveys with historical data on oil and gas accidents and spills.

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A Scottish company has combined the latest behavioural psychology with the rigours of data science algorithms in a new product designed to prevent potentially fatal accidents in the North Sea.

Aberdeen-based Opex Group and an industrial behavioural psychologist are designing a tool that will combine data from diagnostic surveys with historical data on oil and gas accidents and spills reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The resulting real-time predictive analysis will aid operators and service companies by encouraging behaviours that help to avoid incidents that lead to spillages, accidents or fatalities on offshore rigs and ships.

The product aims to avoid disasters, such as the explosion and resulting oil and gas fires that destroyed the Piper Alpha platform 120 miles northeast of Aberdeen in 1988, killing 167 people. Despite North Sea oil and gas operators having some of the most rigorous health and safety regimes in the world, there is still room for improvement.

Chris Flint, the HSE’s director of Energy Division, wrote to all North Sea operators last year to express concern about the number of gas spills that are prevalent within the industry. He called for companies to review their safety processes as he warned some spills had come “perilously close to disaster”.

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Chris Ayres, COO of Opex, stated that the firm has been working with behavioural psychologist and people-analytics expert, Eugene Burke, to develop the X-Pas Smart Behaviours tool. The project has been in development since 2017, when Opex participated in a digital transformation project at Aberdeen’s Oil & Gas Technology Centre.

Ayres said: “Human behaviour is one of the factors that contributes to a safety culture and also to the overall level of safety incidents that occur offshore.

“What we do is combine survey data to establish a behavioural risk profile with the historic HSE incident data. That allows us to identify levers that have the most impact of those behavioural risks from the number of offshore incidents that have been incurred. Basically, it reveals previously uncorrelated relationships within the HSE data through the power of data science.”


Ayres highlighted that the technology can recognise circumstances that encourage groups to follow safer behaviours, including following procedures and reflecting on the impact of their actions on colleagues.

He added: “The oil and gas industry has done a huge amount of work to maintain a positive culture around safety. There are still blind spots around these human behaviours, and this is what X-Pas Smart Behaviours service is designed to help operators with”.

Opex, which was founded in 2009, is in discussion with a number of North Sea- and US-based offshore oil and gas producers that are interested in adopting the technology, according to Ayres.

He said: “We continue to be amazed by the power of data science and the granular insight it provides to deliver unique information and insight into each of our customers. It is very powerful.”

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