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Health Information Technology Security

Abstract       

Due to threats of cybercrime and malware infestations, healthcare organizations all across the world are now forced to upgrade and monitor their cybersecurity systems on a constant basis for the sake of protected patient health information, financial stability, and uninterrupted operations.  Money that would normally be spent on patient care is being diverted to IT professionals, who are hired to keep cybersecurity systems intact.

Health Information Technology Security       

Protecting patient health information, as mandated by law, has become a priority for healthcare facilities all around the world.  From doctors’ offices to medical devices to ransomware, the healthcare industry is under attack by cyber threats that compromise the health, safety, and privacy of patients everywhere.       

Nurses are at the forefront in efforts to secure patient and employee information, promote responsible use of computer technology, and report possible threats and violations in a timely manner.

Cybersecurity is Crucial       

Almost every day, a news story comes out that a corporation, nonprofit organization, or government agency has been hacked.  The healthcare industry is no different, and the attacks are becoming more frequent and more serious.  This is such an important issue at the hospital where I work, it seemed pertinent to write a paper on it.  Our IT department frequently makes us aware of e-mail threats, blocks blog sites, mandates automatic logoffs and timed reboots, requires frequent password changes, and regularly reminds us to turn off our computers, log off when finished, and to not share passwords.  Cybersecurity is crucial to protecting patient health information and network systems.

All Healthcare Organizations are at Risk       

Smaller healthcare clinics and doctors’ offices must follow the same mandates as larger organizations when it comes to protecting patient health information.  Healthcare personnel divulging protected information to unauthorized people and hackers using stolen information in identity theft scams are huge concerns that must be addressed (Taitsman, Grimm, & Agrawal, 2013).  Not only must these smaller organizations take appropriate measures to secure patient health information, but personnel must strictly follow policies and protocols.  Simple safeguards, such as screening phone calls, logging off computers, shredding documents, background checks for employees, automatic logouts, and activity audits, protect and safeguard patients and organizations alike (Taitsman, Grimm, & Agrawal, 2013).  Insurance companies, too, must safeguard patients against fraudulent claims.  Consumers must be educated in ways to protect their own healthcare information (Taitsman, Grimm, & Agrawal, 2013).       

Nurses all across the healthcare spectrum are increasingly required to use computer technology, and they must honor patient privacy, confidentiality, and consent while doing so.  Use of the Internet opens the doorway to viruses, worms, adware, spyware, and other forms of malware (Damrongsak & Brown, 2008).  Something as simple as using a shared address book can infect an entire system.  Logging off the computer when the nurse has finished and frequently backing up data can prevent unauthorized intrusions and corrupted data (Damrongsak & Brown, 2008).  Most medical facilities use an intranet, or closed system, in addition to the Internet, that restricts data to a smaller group of people.  Firewalls, encryption, and the use of virtual private networks provide additional security (Damrongsak & Brown, 2008).       

Large government agencies, such as the Veterans Administration, have increased efforts to stave off cyber-attacks, which compromise patient health information and medical devices.  IT specialists have removed medical devices from the VA hospital’s main network systems and connected them to virtual-local area networks (VLANs) (Rhea, 2010).  Without access to the Internet, these devices can be used without fear of attack.  In the past, the main focus has been on identity theft.  But with the rise of international terrorism, there is a growing fear that medical devices may be hacked and used to intentionally harm patients (Rhea, 2010).  Healthcare IT systems have already been crippled by hackers looking to profit from cybercrime.  In 2009, healthcare facilities around the world found medical devices infected with the Conficker virus (Rhea, 2010).  Downtime caused by malware is expensive and inconvenient.  Hospitals are forced to spend money on security that normally would have gone to patient care (Rhea, 2010).  FDA regulations are also a hindrance to quick development of security patches (Rhea, 2010).       

According to author W.S. Chee (2007), a member of the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at K.K. Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Singapore, medical devices connected to a hospital’s network system can lead to critical threats and infestations of malware in these devices.  Hospitals need to act proactively to prevent intrusions and respond immediately if a system becomes infected (Chee, 2007).  Equipment vendors play a huge role because they supply the security measures which protect medical devices (Chee, 2007).  But they can be slow in providing updates and patches.  The FDA, furthermore, determines when and how changes can be made to biomedical equipment systems.  This places the burden on hospitals to protect themselves (Chee, 2007).       

Thomas Klein (2014), managing editor of Electronic Medical Device Technology, asserts that intentional sabotage of medical devices is only a matter of time.  According to researchers, vulnerabilities have been found in infusion pumps, x-ray machines, cardiac defibrillators, and other devices (Klein, 2014).  Since these devices are frequently connected to the Internet, they are vulnerable to malware.  If the network systems are not fully protected, the devices are subject to malicious attack.  The use of USB ports opens a doorway to security breaches and malware (Klein, 2014).  The risk is so great the FDA became involved and now requires that manufacturers consider cybersecurity risks when developing new products (Klein, 2014).       

The expansion of healthcare information technology improves profitability while exposing healthcare facilities to greater risks (Elliot, 2005).  Facilities must create and enforce policies that secure patient health information across all forms of networks and technology.  One solution for managing remote devices is the use of on-demand security services that cease to work once the remote device is no longer in use (Elliot, 2005).  The problem, then, is security on the other end, where patient health information can be leaked or accessed by the user.  This is called post-delivery security (Elliot, 2005).  Solutions include user malware protection, restrictions on use of data, and audits on computer use.  Developing and enforcing security policies that protect patient health information, especially information transmitted to remote devices, is tantamount to avoiding security breaches and corrupted data (Elliot, 2005).       

The latest, and most serious, threat comes in the form of professional IT criminals who use ransomware to extort money from hospitals (Conn, 2016).  One such threat, Locky, acts through ordinary-looking e-mail (Conn, 2016).  When opened, a virus activates software that encrypts the hospital’s IT system.  Then, a window pops up with a ransom demand.  Samas, another threat, uploads encryption ransomware through a hospital’s Web server (Conn, 2016).  A more sophisticated ransomware, CryptoLocker, demands bitcoin as payment because it is nearly impossible to trace (Conn, 2016).  Once paid, the criminals unlock the data in an infected system.  But, should hospitals pay in the first place?  Cybersecurity has become a booming business, with medical facilities now being forced to employ their services.  There is a major concern that medical devices will be the next systems to be hit by cybercriminals (Conn, 2016).

Topic Availability

This topic, as it relates to Nursing Informatics, is too important to ignore.  I used seven resources from scholarly and peer-reviewed publications for this paper.  I pulled my resources primarily from CINAHL and ProQuest.  I found enough materials to give me a broad overview of the topic, but I was disappointed that more current articles could not be found.  Technology changes so rapidly that even a few months can make a difference in security innovations.  I used both the basic and advanced search features and the key words “medical device malware security.”

Information Availability 

This information is available in scholarly and peer-reviewed journals and other publications.  Although the information was geared toward professionals, some publications include short articles that educate the general public about cybersecurity and protecting patient health information.  Nurses benefit from all of these resources because many do not understand the extent of the threat.

Personal Views 

The information I read shocked me (cyberterrorism), confirmed what I see our IT specialists changing at my hospital, and disturbed me (ransomware cybercrime.)  The general public does not seem to be aware of these threats.  As a nurse who uses computer technology every day, I was not aware of the seriousness of this problem.  It never occurred to me that a glucometer or infusion pump could be infected with a virus or that an unscrupulous person would deliberately sabotage somebody’s pacemaker.  When I mention this to other nurses, they are equally dismayed by the possibilities.  They always ask, “Why would somebody maliciously hack into a medical device?”  For people who devote their lives to saving people, the idea is unthinkable.       

The changing landscape in healthcare makes it crucial that ALL medical personnel understand the seriousness of the threats.  As technology becomes more sophisticated, so do the means by which cybercriminals hack into and infect network systems.  Information is compromised, and patient health and well-being are put at risk.

Conclusion

In conclusion, whether it’s a small private practice or a large healthcare system, the increased use of technology poses significant threats to protected patient health information, medical devices, and cybersecurity systems.  Users all across the healthcare spectrum have a duty to behave responsibly when accessing patient records, divulging information, searching the Internet, managing e-mail and faxes, and interacting with colleagues.  Nurses should provide feedback and input about vulnerabilities in security policies and protocols for the protection of themselves and their patients.  They must educate themselves about current threats so they can adapt their practice to avoid unintentional security breaches.  Nurses can also educate their patients in the use of computer technology, accessing patient portals, and protecting patient health information.        

Technology will continue to be a driving force in healthcare.  Along with the downside comes the possibility of lower costs to facilities and patients, improved outcomes, more accurate measurements, increased research, and greater opportunities for nurses to expand their involvement and role in improving healthcare and healthcare informatics.  Requiring nursing students to study nursing informatics increases their awareness of the problems and benefits of  technology.  Hopefully, our physicians and administrators are being trained in this area, as well.  Health information technology specialists are enjoying a surge in employment opportunities as healthcare systems realize the importance of their specialty.  Technology is expensive, but the threats of cybercrime and cyber-attacks are more damaging.  

References

Chee, W.S. A. (2007). IT security in biomedical imaging informatics: The hidden vulnerability. Journal of Mechanics in Medicine and Biology, 7(1), 101-106.

Conn, J. (2016, April). Ransomware scare: Will hospitals pay for protection. Modern Healthcare, 46(15), 8-8.

Damrongsak, M., & Brown, K.C. (2008). Data security in occupational health. AAOHN

 Journal, 56(10), 417-421. Retrieved from 

http://search.proquest.com.resources.njstatelib.org/docview/219399232?accountid=63787.

Elliot, M. (2005, September). Securing the healthcare border. Health Management Technology,

 26(9), 32-35.

Klein, T. (2014, September). How to protect medical devices against malware. Operating Theatre Journal, 14-14.

Rhea, S. (2010, December). Cyberbattle: Providers work to protect devices, patients. Modern

 Healthcare, 40(50), 33-34.

Taitsman, J. K., Grimm, C. M., Agrawal, S. (2013, March). Protecting Patient privacy and data security. The New England Journal of Medicine, 368, 977-979. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp1215258. Retrieved from http://www.NEJM.org.

~

PowerPoint presentation shared at Flagstaff Medical Center in 2016. See it here on Dropbox:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4o62z11sbzmg5tz/NUR-340%20Power%20Point%20Presentation%20Pisturino%20%281%29.pptx?dl=0

~

Dawn Pisturino
Thomas Edison State University

August 31, 2016; June 10, 2022
Copyright 2016-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

(The references would not format properly.)

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What Happened to the Age of Aquarius?

If there’s one song that best captures the hopes and dreams of the 1960s, it’s the medley, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” from the Broadway musical, Hair (1967). The 5th Dimension, who compiled the medley, really rocked it. I still want to get up and dance to the music. But, whatever happened to the Age of Aquarius?

Lyrics:

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius!
Aquarius!

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
Aquarius!
Aquarius!

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius!
Aquarius!
Aquarius!
Aquarius!

Alright, everybody
C’mon now, we gon’ use other words for this song
Let the sun shine
Let the sunshine in
C’mon, sing along with it

Let the sun shine
Let the sunshine in
The sunshine in (you’ve got to feel it)
Let the sun shine (you’ve got to feel it)
Let the sunshine in (ahh, open up your heart)
The sunshine in (and let it shine on in)
Let the sun shine
Let the sunshine in
The sunshine in
Let the sun shine
Let the sunshine in
The sunshine in

Songwriters: Rado James, Mac Dermot Arthur Terence Galt, Ragni Gerome. For non-commercial use only.

Data From: Musixmatch

Astrologically, nobody really knows when the Age of Aquarius is supposed to begin or if it already did. If you go by these lyrics, it began with the Hippie/New Age Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. But some people believe it began in the 1800s with the Industrial Revolution. Others believe it happened with 12/12/12 and the Mayan prophecy of spiritual realignment. Still others believe it arrived with the COVID-19 pandemic and officially established itself in February 2021. I saw one theory where Jesus and the Apostles were the beginning of the Age of Aquarius. Another one promoted Valentine’s Day 2009 as the beginning. So, who knows? One thing is certain – the lyrics do not accurately reflect its beginning, according to astrologer Neil Spencer, because “Jupiter aligns with Mars several times a year, and the Moon is in the 7th House for 2 hours everyday.”

According to New Age adherents, the Age of Aquarius can be identified by certain hallmarks:

  1. A rapidly-changing society, dependent on technological innovation and intuitive creativity;
  2. Universal unity, harmony, patience, love, brotherhood, peace, resilience, interconnectedness, and elevated consciousness;
  3. Increased self-awareness and self-realization, empowerment, positive thinking, personal responsibility, and intuitive guidance;
  4. The body-mind-spirit connection will resonate at a higher vibration than ever before in the history of the human race.

Some people see two paths emerging: the path of totalitarianism and enslavement by powerful elites; and the path of liberation and spiritual evolution by the masses.

In the meantime, while we wait for our astrological guides to enlighten us, we can work on these qualities as individuals and gain more control over our own lives and our own mental, physical, and spiritual development through mindfulness, yoga, spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, healthful nutrition, exercise, and kindness.

Dawn Pisturino

May 16, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

41 Comments »

Love Your Mother!

(GAIA)

Gaia was the Greek goddess of the Earth who was born out of Chaos at the beginning of creation. Through her mating with Uranus, the celestial gods were born. Her dalliance with Pontos brought forth the sea gods. Through Tartaros, she birthed the giants. All humans and animals were created from her material being.

The Greeks viewed the Earth as a flat disk surrounded by a river. Overhead, the Earth was protected by a heavenly dome. Underneath, a deep pit formed the dome of the Underworld. Gaia was the Mother who nourished and nurtured the Earth and everything on it. The seas and mountains anchored securely on her great and abundant breasts.

Humans are not separate from nature. We are as dependent on Mother Earth for our sustenance as any other creature. But the human ego, pumped up by advanced technology, has deceived us into believing that we are above it all. We are so powerful, intelligent, and all-knowing, that we can control nature, the weather, and all aspects of the natural order. We are the Masters of the Universe, ready to hop onto the next spaceship to another planet. The problem is that we will take all of our problems and our egos with us.

In the 1970s, scientists claimed that the Earth was headed for another Ice Age and had all the data to back it up. So far, it hasn’t happened. They claimed that the Earth would run out of petroleum in 25 years. It never happened. They claimed that the Earth was going to be so over-populated in the future that famine would be widespread. Except for the political manipulation of politicians, this has not happened.

In the 1990s, we began to see books like The Coming Plague (1994) and The Coming Global Superstorm (1999) which predicted widespread existential threats like devastating disease and severe weather patterns that would wipe out the human race. No natural event has ever occurred in the history of mankind which had the capability to wipe out the entire human race. (Please note that I’m not talking about the dinosaurs here.) COVID was never virulent enough to rise to that occasion, as inconvenient and life-changing as it has been. (And there is no evidence that COVID originated from climate change, as some people are claiming. It could just as likely have originated from a lab, as some evidence suggests, or arisen naturally as a result of mutation, which is the most logical conclusion.) And, the wildfires, hurricanes, and tornados we have experienced have been contained as local events.

When scientists first labeled climate change as “global warming,” they neglected to explain to the general public how that actually works, and people were confused by what they actually experienced; so they re-labeled it as “climate change” to make it easier to understand. Essentially, it means that when one part of the planet grows warmer and changes the local environment, other changes occur in other parts of the planet – but NOT NECESSARILY THE SAME CHANGES. For example, record heat in one part of the planet may be accompanied by record cold in another part, even if the overall temperature of the planet has increased. Increased drought in one area may be accompanied by increased precipitation in another. Climate (long-term conditions) and weather (short-term conditions) involve much more than just temperature. Wind and ocean currents play a big part. An extreme event would be a sudden and unstoppable shift in climate. This scenario was touched upon in the movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004), where North America was suddenly covered with ice, and people were forced to migrate south to Mexico. (This movie, by the way, is based on the book, The Coming Global Superstorm.)

Our Mother Earth also has mechanisms in place to control population (disease, infertility, old age, predation, and natural death). The human ego is so out of control that we have come to a point where we believe that nobody should ever get sick and nobody should ever die. This attitude has been clearly evident during the COVID pandemic. One of the most important things I learned as a registered nurse and healthcare worker is that you can’t save everybody, and in fact, you shouldn’t save everybody. This sounds cold-hearted, but it’s a fact of life. The world is out of balance because of human interference in the natural order.

On Earth Day and everyday, remember and love your Mother – she who nourishes and sustains your very existence. But please don’t spread the seeds of hysteria, fear, panic, and anxiety. When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others began telling young people that we were all going to die in 12 years because of climate change, we began receiving young people into our inpatient mental health unit who were so distraught and eaten up with anxiety, paranoia, and fear that some of them were on the verge of suicide. Deliberately spreading this kind of fear-mongering rhetoric is irresponsible, cruel, and unacceptable. It’s pollution of a different sort.

Recycle what you can, plant trees, pick up litter, and keep your environment clean and free from as many toxins as possible. Work to help endangered species and places to thrive. Help clean up our oceans, rivers, and lakes. Conserve water! Reduce your use of plastic. Use energy-efficient vehicles, appliances, and lighting. Drive electric vehicles, if that’s your style, but remember that those batteries create toxic waste (ALL BATTERIES create toxic waste). Electronic computers, cellphones, and other devices also create toxic waste and use elements like lithium that have to be mined from the earth. Mining leads to erosion and deforestation. Convert to solar, wind, and all-electric, if you want. But remember that even these technologies have their environmental downside. For example, the breakdown of energy sources used to generate electricity is as follows, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration: natural gas 40%, nuclear energy 20%, renewable energy 20%, coal 19%, petroleum 1%. Using electricity does not eliminate fossil fuels and nuclear energy from the equation. Anybody who tells you otherwise (including politicians and climate activists) has not done their homework. Furthermore, humans and animals are carbon-based entities. Plants depend on CO2 to produce oxygen. We could never live in a carbon-free world because that, in itself, would be an existential threat.

On April 22, we honor our planet. Happy Earth Day!

Dawn Pisturino

April 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

41 Comments »

Chevron’s Operational Excellence Management System

       Chevron is a transnational energy corporation with offices and projects all over the world.  The company takes great pride in conducting business according to its core values.  The company’s vision and mission statement, Business Conduct and Ethics code, and Operational Excellence Management System overview can be easily found on the company website and elsewhere on the Internet.

       The Chevron Way encompasses the company’s vision and mission statement.  Chevron’s vision is “to be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnerships, and performance” (Chevron, 2018; MBA Tutorials, 2020).  This vision reflects its core values “to conduct business in a socially responsible and ethical manner.  We respect the law, support universal human rights, protect the environment, and benefit the communities where we work” (Chevron, 2020; MBA Tutorials, 2020).

       In accordance with the Chevron Way, the company strives to safely and efficiently supply energy products to its customers all over the world; hire the best-qualified people; become the best-qualified and highest-performing organization for its partners; and earn the respect and admiration of all of its stakeholders (MBA Tutorials, 2020).

       Chevron’s Business Conduct and Ethics Code outlines for employees the values and high standards of the company.  As Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mike Wirth writes, “The Chevron Way is our touchstone for getting results the right way and establishes high standards for how we operate around the world” (Chevron, 2020).  The code emphasizes the company’s commitment to comply with the laws, regulations, and customs of every country in which it operates.  Violations can range from human rights to health and safety matters to bribery and fraud.  Consequently, the company encourages all employees to speak up about alleged violations of the code.  Since the company has a non-retaliation policy, employees who speak up in good faith are protected from retaliation by supervisors and peers (Chevron, 2020).

       In the United States, Chevron and other energy companies are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).  In 1994, DOT established the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to regulate the United States’ 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines.  As of 2018, oil provided 40 percent of U.S. energy, and natural gas provided 25 percent (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).

       Pipelines are considered a transportation system because they transport oil and gas to residential, commercial, and industrial customers.  Transporting energy products through pipelines is considered the safest means of transport.  PHMSA regulates all types of pipelines: gathering lines, transmission pipelines, and distribution lines.  The agency is responsible for “regulating the safety of design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and emergency response of U.S. oil and natural gas pipeline facilities” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).  Protecting human lives and the environment from pipeline safety hazards are the main focus of PHMSA (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).       

       Integrity Management is a program instituted by PHMSA that requires pipeline operators to analyze and understand the environment and population in the area where the pipeline exists. Operators must be able to foresee the consequences of a pipeline failure to the local environment and community.  This proactive approach to pipeline safety and emergency management helps operators to prioritize inspections and scheduled maintenance and keeps them well-prepared in the event of a pipeline failure (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).

       In addition to PHMSA, other federal agencies involved in pipeline safety and security are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Department of Energy (DOE), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  State and local governments as well as industry experts also contribute to regulatory controls and standards.  Individual states must meet minimum federal safety regulations but can create stricter rules (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020). 

       PHMSA’s Office of Pipeline Safety performs “field inspections of pipeline facilities and construction projects; inspections of operator management systems, procedures, and processes; and incident investigation” (U.S. Department of transportation, 2020).  When violations or safety hazards are found, the agency can force an operator to take corrective action (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).

       Operators of gas distribution systems must participate in the Gas Distribution Integrity Management Program (DIMP) which requires them to develop and put into practice a comprehensive integrity management program tailored to their individual distribution systems.  The purpose is to enhance safety by identifying risks, ranking them by severity, and implementing safety precautions to manage and eliminate those risks (U.S. Department of transportation, 2018).

       Chevron has developed a comprehensive Operational Excellence Management System which reflects its core values as a company.  Mike Wirth, Chairman of the Board and CEO, takes personal responsibility for the company’s performance.  His primary concern, when it comes to safety, is “to eliminate high-consequence personal and process safety events.  This means no fatalities or serious injuries and no fires, spills or explosions that can affect people or communities” (Chevron, 2018).

       Wirth’s focus is on three important areas: 1) understanding the safety risks involved in managing oil and gas operations; 2) identifying the safety measures needed to mitigate the risks; 3) implementing, maintaining, and improving those necessary safety measures (Chevron, 2018).

       The goals of Chevron’s Operational Excellence Management System are to protect “people and the environment” (Chevron, 2018), fulfill its mission “to be the global energy company most admired for its people, partnerships, and performance” (Chevron, 2018), and successfully manage “workforce safety and health, process safety, reliability and integrity, environment, efficiency, security, and stakeholders” (Chevron, 2018).

       To implement and maintain such a system requires the cooperation of all members of management and the workforce.  Everyone in the company must be accountable for their actions and the actions of others.  Everyone must be responsible for fostering a culture of safety and performance excellence (Chevron, 2018).

       Company accountability begins with its compliance with all health, environmental, and safety laws and regulations. Next, the company must comply with its own internal policies and procedures.  At the same time, company personnel must continually assess the company’s risk management program and make improvements as needed.  Assurance measures must be taken to ensure that safety precautions are kept in place to mitigate all identified risks.  The competency of the workforce must be kept up-to-date to ensure that quality management requirements are met.  The company must provide educational opportunities to keep the workforce informed of new policies, practices, and procedures.  The company must incorporate advanced technology into its operations to reduce the risk of human error.  Communication systems must be effective and reliable in order to convey information about potential chemical and biological safety hazards.  Contractors hired by the company must be in compliance with Chevron’s Business Conduct and Ethics Code and Operational Excellence Management System to maintain consistency and high-performance standards across the company.  There must be a competent system in place to report and investigate accidents; evaluate causes; implement new safety procedures; and communicate findings with management and the workforce.  Finally, an emergency management team must be prepared to respond at any time to a serious crisis that could harm property and human lives (Chevron, 2018).

       The reliability and integrity of wells, pipelines, and other facilities must be managed effectively to prevent safety hazards and operational losses.  Equipment must be inspected and maintained on a routine basis (Chevron, 2018).

       Chevron maintains a goal “to do business in environmentally responsible ways” (Chevron, 2018).  The company seeks to prevent all spills and accidental releases of gas and oil; to reduce air, water, and ground pollution; to conserve national resources and reduce greenhouse gases; to manage waste, especially waste produced by contractors; to dismantle company assets that are no longer used and restore the natural environment to its original pristine state.  The company keeps the public informed of its environmental management policies on its website (Chevron, 2018).

       Efficient use of energy and resources in order to drive down costs is an important part of Chevron’s Operational Excellence Management System.  Maintaining a secure physical and cyber environment prevents unnecessary and unwanted intrusions and safety hazards.  Engaging all stakeholders, including outside contractors, in the safety and performance goals of the company ensures that everyone connected with the company is on board (Chevron, 2018).

       The Operational Excellence Management System at Chevron depends on strong leaders and committed workers who are willing to work together as a team to implement, maintain, and improve the safeguards which mitigate risk.  “Typical safeguards include facility designs, mechanical devices, engineered systems, protective equipment, and execution of procedures” (Chevron, 2018).  Once risks are identified, personnel work together to eliminate them; create new policies and procedures to manage them; and provide personal protective equipment to protect workers from them (Chevron, 2018).

       Personnel are also expected to follow a code of conduct that was designed to reinforce safety and mitigate risk.  The two key tenets of this code are: “Do it safely or not at all” and “There is always time to do it right” (Chevron, 2018).  If all employees operate on a daily basis within the fundamental safety provisions of the Operational Excellence Management System, safety hazards should be minimized or avoided altogether (Chevron, 2018).

       Chevron’s website provides an excellent overview for the general public of its history, operations, financial status, environmental and safety management, ongoing projects, and vision for the future.  What it does not address are the real situations that come up and threaten the financial standing of the company and the Operational Excellence Management System it has put in place.

       The jewel in Chevron’s crown is the Gorgon Project, located off the coast of Western Australia.  Gorgon is one of the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in the world, with the capacity to produce 15.6 million tonnes of LNG per year.  The processing facilities are located on a one percent section of Barrow Island, a Class A Nature Reserve.  Chevron has invested an enormous amount of time and resources into preserving the integrity of its pipelines, processing facilities, and the environmental standards of Barrow Island.  The company has set out to prove that an oil and gas company can successfully operate while respecting and preserving the local environment (Chevron Australia, 2020).  

       From its very beginning in 2009, the Gorgon Project has been plagued by failures, safety hazards, engineering challenges, and excessive costs.  Originally, the project was supposed to cost $US37 billion, and the first LNG was projected to be produced in 2014.  By the time the first load of LNG was produced and shipped off to Asia in 2016, the final cost came in at $US54 billion (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       In 2009, there was a strong worldwide demand for LNG.  In early 2016, the price of petroleum products had fallen, and there was an excessive supply of LNG on the market.  Chevron was under pressure to complete Gorgon and produce its first load of LNG.  In order to meet Chevron Chief Executive John Watson’s deadline, “untreated feed gas traveled from the Jansz-Io gas field wellheads, 1350 [meters] below sea level off the edge of the continental shelf, to Barrow island, 130 [kilometers] away” (Boiling Cold, 2020).  Once the gas was treated and ready for cooling, “the feed gas ran through [a propane cooler] on a separate circuit” (Boiling Cold, 2020).  The propane gas in the cooler circulated “back to the compressor through a knockout drum” (Boiling Cold, 2020).  Nearly three weeks later, the fourth knockout drum failed, damaging the compressor.  Production was halted for three months (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Chevron released a statement more than a week later that the failure would only require routine repairs, and all equipment and materials were available at the facilities.  In reality, the propane compressor was flown to Perth for repairs.  Three months after the failure, Chevron had not reported it to the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP), the safety regulator for the Barrow Island LNG plant (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       In August 2016, Chevron finally met with DMP officials to discuss the incident.  Chevron provided an analysis of what led up to the incident.  The most serious violation was the failure of workers to follow the company’s safety code and stop the cooling process when the propane compressor began to vibrate excessively (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Another significant issue was the failure by engineers and operating technicians to evaluate and identify possible safety hazards with the plant’s start-up operation and then take measures to make changes to the design or procedures to mitigate risks (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Other violations included workers with inadequate knowledge to start up the plant, fuzzy management responsibilities, and insufficient technical resources to deal with a problem (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Chevron took corrective measures to fix the problems and satisfy the requirements set forth by the DMP, then issued a public statement to assure the public that they had taken action to ensure the safety of all people working at the plant (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Part of Chevron’s environmental agreement with Western Australia was “to capture and store underground 40 percent of the [Gorgon] plant’s emissions through a sophisticated process known as geosequestration or carbon capture and storage” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2018).  Chevron proudly brags about its CO2 injection project on its website.  But the reality shows something different.

       Chevron promised that between 5.5 and 8 million tonnes of CO2 would be injected into its underwater carbon storage project in the first two years of production on Barrow Island.  But seal failures and problems with corrosion delayed the CO2 injection project, leaving the Federal Government of Australia $AU60 million dollars poorer. As a result, all the gains in lower CO2 emissions made by the widespread use of solar power were wiped out.  A spokesperson for Chevron stated, “Our focus is on the safe commissioning and start-up of the carbon dioxide injection project and achieving a high percentage of injection over the 40-year life of the Gorgon project” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2018).

       Chevron’s CO2 injection project was approved by Premier Colin Barnett on September 14, 2009. “The Barrow Island Act was the first legislation regulating carbon dioxide storage (geosequestration) in the world” (Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, 2019).  The project started injecting CO2 into the Dupuy Formation, a geological layer located more than two kilometers beneath Barrow Island, in August 2019.  Since then, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety has been monitoring the project, making sure that Chevron stays in compliance with the Barrow Island Act and its Pipeline License (Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, 2019).

       When Chevron’s carbon dioxide system successfully started up in August 2019, Chevron Australia issued a press release reassuring the Australian public that it would continue to monitor all safety issues and fulfill its promise to reduce the Gorgon plant’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the 40-year life of the project (Chevron Australia, 2019).

       When the coronavirus spread around the world early in 2020, the slumping oil and gas industry was hit with more problems.  The economic lockdowns put in place to stop the spread of the virus kept people at home, causing a backlog in equipment and parts orders, and a slowdown in preventative maintenance and repairs on wells, transmission pipelines, refineries, and gas distribution systems (Reuters, 2020).

       In order to cut costs, companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil began laying off workers, putting off maintenance and repair projects, and delaying start-up projects.  This put established wells, pipelines, refineries, and gas distribution systems at risk for future failure and safety hazards (Reuters, 2020).

       In July 2020, it was reported by the Australian media that routine maintenance at Barrow Island had uncovered thousands of cracks in eight propane kettles that had been sitting in storage for several years.  These kettles had been scheduled to be installed on LNG Train 2.  It has been speculated that the cracks were caused by water penetrating the thermal insulation surrounding the vessels.  The insulation was installed by overseas construction firms and then shipped to Australia (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       While repairing the cracks in the eight propane kettles, workers at Chevron discovered defective welds in those same kettles.  Executive Vice-President Jay Johnson told investment analysts that the defects occurred during the manufacturing process and not because they were poorly designed.  He claimed that repairs would be sufficient to make the vessels safe (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Safety measures were put in place to mitigate risks in LNG Trains 1 and 3, but Chevron refused to reveal what those safety measures were or how workers would be safe while repairing LNG Train 2 (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       The company suffered a $US8.3 billion loss in the second quarter of 2020 due to problems at the Gorgon Project.  And it refused to explain how the 16 propane-filled kettles still operating were safe without being inspected for cracks and weld defects (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       In September, Chevron reported that it had given incorrect instructions to welders repairing the eight propane kettles on LNG Train 2.  Authorized personnel had neglected to inform welders that a post-weld heat treatment needed to be done, subjecting the weld to more cracking and failure (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       More delays in repairs have cost Chevron and its partners more than $AU500 million.  The continued problems at Gorgon have worried union leaders and workers alike.  The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety “gave Chevron permission to continue operating [LNG] Trains 1 and 3 under a plan where Train 1 would close for inspection of its kettles in early October and Train 3 would shut down in early January [2021]” (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       The company error occurred simultaneously with the final phase of its plan to lay off 20 to 30 percent of its Australian workforce due to losses incurred from COVID-19 lockdowns, a slumping oil and gas industry, and the expensive problems at Gorgon Project.  If repairs need to be done on Trains 1 and 3, the company will incur even more losses.  In order to recover some of its losses, Chevron plans to sell between $US5 billion and $US10 billion worth of assets (Boiling Cold, 2020).

       Publicly, Chevron does what it needs to do to keep a shining reputation, but the reality is a much different story.  Chevron’s lofty goals for itself magnify every mistake that it makes, from environmental violations to engineering and operational errors to investment losses.  Although  basically a sound company and a worthy employer, Chevron is in a tough position due to stricter environmental standards, COVID-19 restrictions, a slumping industry, and forces lined up against the use of fossil fuels.

References

Chevron. (2020). Chevron business conduct and ethics code. Retrieved from

https://www.chevron.com/-/media/shared-media/documents/chevronbusinessconductethics

       code.pdf

Chevron. (2018). Chevron operational excellence management system. Retrieved from

Chevron Australia. (2019). Safe start up and operation of the carbon dioxide injection system at

       the gorgon natural gas facility. Retrieved from https://australia.chevron.com/

       news/2019/carbon-dioxide-injection/

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. (2019). Gorgon carbon dioxide injection

       project. Retrieved from https://www.dmp.wa.gov.au/Petroleum/Gorgon-CO2-injection-

       project-1600.aspx

Diss, K. (2018, June). How the gorgon gas plant could wipe out a year’s worth of australia’s

       solar emissions savings. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-21/gorgon-gas-plant-wiping-out-a-year-of-solar-

       emission-savings/9890386.     

MBA Tutorials. (2020). Chevron mission and vision statement. Retrieved from

Milne, P. (2020, July). Gorgon’s catastrophic start-up. Boiling Cold. Retrieved from

https://www.boilingcold.com.au/gorgons-catastrophic-startup/

Milne, P. (2020, July). Cracks at chevron’s gorgon threaten safety and lng production.

       Boiling Cold. Retrieved from https://www.boilingcold.com.au/cracks-at-chevrons-gorgon-

       threaten-lng-production/

Milne, P. (2020, August). Gorgon weld problems raise safety questions chevron will not answer.

       Boiling Cold. Retrieved from https://www.boilingcold.com.au/gorgon-weld-problems-raise-

       safety-questions-chevron-will-not-answer/

Milne, P. (2020, September). Chevron to redo its botched gorgon weld repairs. Boiling Cold.

       Retrieved from https://www.boilingcold.com.au/chevron-to-redo-its-botched-gorgon-weld-

       repairs/

Milne, P. (2020, November). Chevron to restart gorgon lng train after $500m production loss.

       Retrieved from https://www.boilingcold.com.au/chevron-to-restart-gorgon-lng-train-after-

       500m-production-loss/  

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020). About phmsa. Retrieved from

https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/about-phmsa/phmsa-mission/

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2018). Gas distribution integrity management. Retrieved

       from https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/technical-resources/pipeline/gas-distribution-integrity-   

       management-program/

Yagova, O., George, L., Bozorgmehr, S. (2020, May). Coronavirus creates repair headache for

       Oil and gas industry. Reuters. Retrieved from

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-oil-maintenance-an/coronavirus-

       creates-repair-headache-for-oil-and-gas-industry-idUSKBN22V0LT.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 16, 2020; April 20, 2022

Copyright 2020-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Gas Pipeline Maintenance and Safety

       The main goal of a natural gas distribution company is to deliver affordable energy to customers in a safe manner at the lowest possible cost.  Utility companies in the United States are private businesses, even though they are regulated by local, state, and federal agencies, and must make a reasonable profit in order to pay employees, finance support services, expand services, and keep the natural gas distribution system well-maintained and safe (Busby, 1997, p. 45).

       Before a pipeline is even built, it must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Companies must submit their “construction plans and economic studies that demonstrate a demand for gas in the area to be served and an available, adequate supply of gas” (Busby, 1997, p. 45).  Companies must also detail the pipeline’s environmental impact on the local surroundings.  Once the FERC approves the pipeline, it issues a certificate to the company (Busby, 1997, p. 44-45).

       The next steps are to purchase the right-of-way and lease property along the path of the pipeline.  Peculiarities in the local environment, the length of the pipeline, the local population, expected customer needs, and the projected load dictate what choices the design engineers make – gas pressure, pipe diameter, pipe wall thickness, type and spacing of compressors, and more. Computer software now exists to assist engineers to choose the right location and calculate the right specifications.  Once all this is done, the appropriate pipes, valves, and other parts and equipment are ordered (Busby, 1997, p. 45).

       Ditching machines dig deep trenches in the ground, and sections of pipe are laid out along the trench.  The sections of pipe are held in place while welders weld the lengths of steel pipe into one long pipeline.  After the pieces of pipe are welded, “the outside surface of the pipe is cleaned, coated, and wrapped to inhibit external corrosion” (Busby, 1997, p. 46).  Frequently, these pipes have been coated inside at the steel mill to prevent corrosion; to aid internal inspection of the pipe; to reduce water retention after hydrostatic testing; to reduce absorption of gas odorants; to create a friction-free surface.  After the pipe is welded, coated, and inspected, it is lowered into the trench, where it is re-covered with appropriate backfill (Busby, 1997, p. 46-47). 

       At any point along this timeline, safety issues can come up which might not become apparent until months or years later.  A faulty pipe, an inappropriate valve, a design flaw, a pipeline that is allowed to carry too much pressure, an improper weld or inappropriate backfill, may lead to a dangerous break or leak later on down the line.

       Safety is the paramount concern in pipeline operations.  “Pipelines require regular patrol, inspection, and maintenance, including internal cleaning and checking for signs of gas leaks” (Busby, 1997, p. 51-52).  A major pipeline disaster could lead to political and economic repercussions, as well as environmental pollution and threats to property and human lives (Busby, 1997, p. 51-52).

       The most common cause of pipeline damage is third-party damage, caused by contractors and other people digging too close to natural gas lines.  Any damage to the pipe, the coating, or the welded joints can cause leakage and breakage.  Most states now have requirements for contractors to determine the location of utility lines before they dig new trenches (Busby, 1997, p. 52).

       Corrosion is the second most common cause of pipeline damage. “To minimize corrosion, pipeline companies install electrical devices called cathodic protection systems, which inhibit electrochemical reactions between the pipe and surrounding materials” (Busby, 1997, p. 52).  Any kind of rust, cracking, or pitting can cause pipe breakage or leakage.  If the original coating on the pipe was defective before use, the problem may go undetected for a long time (Busby, 1997, p. 52).

       A hydrostatic test can prove whether or not a pipeline is defective or needs repairs.  The gas is removed from the pipeline and the pipe is filled with high-pressure water.  But this is an expensive procedure so pipeline operators use a device called a pig that travels through the pipeline to remove dirt and corrosion.  These materials can cause damage to the pipes, regulators, and meters.  More advanced pigs (smart pigs) use technology that can measure pipe wall thickness and other abnormalities which can indicate corrosion and other damage (Busby, 1997, p. 52-53).

       Aerial patrols of transmission lines make routine surveys that can detect signs of leakage, such as patches of yellow vegetation in areas that are normally green; construction projects that may have damaged the line; or bare pipes that need to be re-covered (Busby, 1997, p. 53).

       Leak detectors can detect gas leaks above and below the ground.  Workers can detect leaks by the presence of brown or yellow vegetation.  By digging small holes at these locations, gas leaks can be detected by visual inspection or the odor of gas.  Inline cameras are used to detect leaks inside pipelines (Busby, 1997, p. 67).

       Workers routinely survey pipelines for leaks on a set schedule.  Public buildings, such as schools, hospitals, government offices, and theaters, are given priority attention.  Serious leaks are repaired immediately.  Companies are obligated to investigate customer reports of gas odor, leaks, explosion, or fire in a reasonable amount of time, according to the severity of the leak (Busby, 1997, p. 67).  Natural gas utilities post information on their websites educating consumers on detecting and reporting natural gas leaks.

       Mains and other distribution pipes made of plastic are repaired by shutting off the gas and squeezing closed the pipe on each side of the leak.  The leaking section is replaced with new pre-tested plastic piping and appropriate connections made on each end. “Mechanical couplings are commonly used for this purpose” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2017, p. VI-20).  Repairs must be done by qualified technicians (Busby, 1997, p. 69). 

       Leaks in steel pipes can be repaired with “leak clamp[s] applied directly over the leak” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2017, p. VI-20).  If multiple leaks are found, the easiest way to repair the pipe is to replace it altogether with pre-tested pipe that has been coated, wrapped, and strengthened by cathodic protection.  Steel pipe can also “be replaced by inserting PE pipe manufactured according to ASTM D2513 in the existing line and making the appropriate connections at both ends” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2017, p. VI-20).  Qualified technicians must be used to make the repairs who will use the proper connections, provide adequate support, and consider thermal expansion and contraction of the PE pipe (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2017, p. VI-20).

       Instead of repairing cast iron natural gas pipes, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) instituted programs to identify, manage, and replace cast and wrought iron pipelines as early as 2009.  The Distribution Integrity Management Programs (DIMP) became mandatory for all U.S. pipeline operators in 2011 (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).

       In 2012, PHMSA urged state pipeline safety agencies to “monitor cast iron replacement programs, establish accelerated leak surveys, focus safety efforts on high-risk pipe, incentivize pipeline rehabilitation, repair and replacement programs, strengthen inspection, accident investigation, and enforcement actions, and install home methane gas alarms” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).  While cast iron gas pipes can be repaired using PE or steel pipe and the appropriate connections by qualified technicians, the official recommendation is to replace these pipes altogether.

       The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is restricted by Section 4(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act when it comes to oversight of oil and gas pipelines.  OSHA’s authority is largely limited to contractors hired by pipeline owners and operators and their workers when it comes to occupational health and safety hazards (United States Department of Labor, 2004).

       The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the primary regulator of oil and gas pipelines in the United States.  The administration sponsors a Gas Distribution Integrity Management Program which requires all operators to create a Distribution Integrity Management Program (DIMP) that includes the following elements: “knowledge; identify threats; evaluate and rank risks; identify and implement measures to address risks; measure performance, monitor results, and evaluate effectiveness; periodically evaluate and improve program; report results” (U.S. Department of Transportation, 2020).

       Gas distribution systems are a necessary part of modern life.  With all stakeholders working together to achieve optimal safety, natural gas will continue to be a safe, low-cost, efficient form of energy.

References

Busby, R.L. (Ed.). (1999). Natural Gas in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PennWell.

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2017). Guidance Manual for Operators of Small Natural

       Gas Systems. Oklahoma City, OK: U.S. Department of Transportation.

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020). Pipeline replacement. Retrieved from

https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/data-and-statistics/pipeline-replacement/

U.S. Department of Transportation. (2020). Gas distribution integrity management. Retrieved

       From https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/technical-resources/pipeline/gas-distribution-integrity-

       management-program/

U.S. Department of Labor. (2004). Laws and regulations. Retrieved from

https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/standardinterpretations/2004-05-28-0

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 8, 2020; April 19, 2022

Copyright 2020-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

15 Comments »

Local Natural Gas Distribution Systems

(Photo: Unisource Energy Services)

If you’ve ever wondered where your natural gas comes from and how it gets to your house or business, here’s an example of how a local natural gas distribution system works. Regulations and construction requirements may differ from state to state.

Case Study: Local Natural Gas Distribution in Kingman, Arizona

Unisource Energy Services (UES) in Kingman, Arizona receives natural gas from the Transwestern Pipeline, which originates in Texas.  The steel transmission pipeline is 30 inches in diameter and operates at pressures from 200 to 1500 psi.  The pressure is reduced to 60 psi at UNS regulator stations and then reduced again to 0.25 psi before it enters the service lines that connect to home appliances (Unisource Energy Services, 2019; Energy Transfer, 2020).

In Arizona, there are four compressor stations along the Transwestern Pipeline at Klagetoh, Leupp, Flagstaff, and Seligman.  The compressors were built by USA Compression (Energy Transfer, 2020; USA Compression, 2020).

“Natural gas is compressed for transmission to minimize the size and cost of the pipe required to transport it” (Busby, 2017, p. 49).  Friction inside the pipe reduces the pressure and flow rate.  The gas is re-compressed at compressor stations in order to boost the pressure in the line.  Compressor stations are generally found every 50 to 100 miles along a pipeline.  They are a crucial part of the transport system that keeps the natural gas flowing through the pipe at the right pressure and flow rate.  Air is mixed in with the gas to lower emissions from the compressor stations (Busby, 2017, p. 49, 51).

Reciprocating compressors use high compression ratios but have limited capacities.  They are driven by internal combustion natural gas engines (Busby, 2017, p. 49).

Centrifugal compressors use lower compression ratios but have high capacities.  They rotate at 4,000 to 7,000 rpm and are driven by natural gas turbines.  They are energy efficient and cost less to install and use (Busby, 2017, p. 49-50).

The Transwestern Pipeline has an interconnect point at Kingman, Arizona, at legal description 21 N, 16 W, in Section 19.  There is a measuring station there that measures the amount of gas delivered to the Kingman interconnect (Energy Transfer, 2020).

Transwestern utilizes all types of meters in its measuring stations: orifice meters to measure gas received or delivered at an interconnect; turbine meters or ultrasonic meters to measure displaced gas; and coriolus meters, all according to the AGA Gas Measurement Manual (Energy Transfer, 2020).

“Metering of gas flow is an important function of pipeline gas operations” (Busby, 2017, p. 51) because customers along the line pay for the amount of natural gas they receive.  Meters must be accurate in order to ensure accurate and reliable billing (Busby, 2017, p. 49).

Many natural gas companies handle seasonal demand by storing natural gas in underground facilities or storing it as liquefied natural gas (LNG).  “Peak shaving is one of the most common domestic uses for LNG today” (ADI Analytics, 2015).  When seasonal demand (usually in the winter) requires a bigger load of natural gas, the “LNG is regasified and sent to the distribution pipelines” (Maverick Engineering, 2016).

Natural gas supplies can also be augmented with synthetic natural gas (SNG) during seasonal demand.  SNG is actually propane-air or liquefied petroleum gas air (LP-air) which “is created by combining vaporized LPG with compressed air” (Transtech Energy, 2020).  During seasonal demand, peak shaving facilities inject SNG into the natural gas distribution system to augment the real natural gas in order to meet increased demand (Transtech Energy, 2020).

Another way to increase the natural gas supply during peak demand is line packing.  This requires installing oversized pipes in transmission lines, which is incredibly expensive, and not always worth the cost (INGAA Foundation, 1996).

Unisource Energy Services has no storage facilities so it must plan ahead and estimate how much natural gas it will need to meet the winter peak demand.  Then it must contract with a reliable natural gas supplier, schedule the deliveries, and submit its Gas Supply Plan to the Arizona Corporation Commission.  This arrangement is called an asset management agreement (AMA) (American Gas Association, 2019; Arizona Corporation Commission, 2017).

As local natural gas distribution companies grow, they must install new lines to accommodate new customers.  The state of Arizona requires that all excavations be reported to the state at least 2 days before the actual trenching.  All utility lines must be discovered and clearly marked.  Only manual digging can be used within 24 inches of marked lines (Arizona 811, 2020).  These requirements were put in place for safety reasons, to prevent damage to buildings and injuries to humans.

Joint trench requirements can differ from city to city, county to county, and state to state. But a typical safe guideline is as follows: a trench at least 36 inches deep and 18 inches wide; 24 inches between gas and electric lines and between natural gas and water lines; 12 inches between natural gas and communication lines; 24 inches between natural gas and sewer lines (Arizona Public Service Electric, 1995; Lane Electric Cooperative, 2020).

Unisource Energy Services is required by law to follow state and local construction requirements and trenching laws.  The company uses plastic pipes 0.5 to 8 inches in diameter and coated steel pipes 0.75 to 16 inches in diameter (Unisource Energy Services, 2019).  Like all natural gas companies, company engineers must consider line pressures, the length of the line, and estimated load when deciding which pipes to use.

References

ADI Analytics. (2015). A new role for small-scale and peak shaving lng infrastructure.

       Retrieved from https://www.adi-analytics.com/2015/06/03/a-new-role-for-small-scale-and-

       peak-shaving-lng-infrastructure/

American Gas Association. (2019). LDC supply portfolio management during the 2018-2019

       winter heating season. Retrieved from

Arizona 811. (2020). Proper planning. Retrieved from https://www.arizona811.com.

Arizona Corporation Commission. (2017). Winter preparedness. Retrieved from

https://www.azcc.gov/docs/default-source/utilities-files/gas/winter-preparedness-2017/uns-

       gas-2017-winter-prepardness.pdf?sfvrsn=daa79b6f_2.

Arizona Public Service Electric. (1995). Trenching requirements. Retrieved from

https://www.aps.com/en/About/Construction-and-Power-Line-Siting/Construction-Services.

Busby, R.L. (Ed.). (1999). Natural Gas in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PennWell.

Energy Transfer. (2020). Natural gas. Retrieved from

https://www.energytransfer.com/natural-gas.

INGAA Foundation. (1996). The use of liquefied natural gas for peaking service. Retrieved from

https://www.ingaa.org/File.aspx?id=21698.

Lane Electric Cooperative. (2020). Typical trench detail. Retrieved from

Maverick Engineering. (2016). Oil & gas: LNG: Peak shaving facilities. Retrieved from

https://www.maveng.com/index.php/business-streams/oil-gas/lng/peak-shaving-facilities.

Transtech Energy. (2020). SNG peak shaving system design & implementation. Retrieved from

https://www.transtechenergy.com/peak-shaving-systems.

Unisource Energy Services. (2019). Construction services. Retrieved from

USA Compression. (2020). Gas compression. Retrieved from

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

November 19, 2020; April 18, 2022

Copyright 2020-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Geological Expertise in Oil and Gas Exploration

(Graphic from Oil & Gas Portal)

Geologists use a variety of tools to discover underground pockets of crude oil and natural gas. Without their expertise, the oil and gas industry would not exist.

Exploration

The first thing geologists must determine is the location of geological formations that can trap oil and gas underground. They do this by determining what kind of sedimentary rocks form the reservoir and what kind of chemical elements are present in the rocks. If sandstones and carbonates are present, this is a good indication that ancient organic matter once existed in that area which decayed and formed hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons became trapped underground in the form of crude oil and natural gas (Busby, 1999, p. 15).

Geological methods include drawing maps of the surface and subsurface region and gathering rock samples.

Topographical maps in 2-D and 3-D visualize layers of rock and the horizontal and vertical placement of those layers. Rock formations are given a two-part name, the geographical location, which is usually the name of the nearby town, and the predominant type of rock (Busby, 1999, p. 19).

Subsurface maps include three elements: structural, which shows the elevation of rock layers; isopach, which indicates thickness; and lithofacies, which reveal variations in a single layer of rock (Busby, 1999, p. 20).

When geologists take rock samples, they extract samples from the core and gather “cuttings” (rock chips) for “assessing the formation’s lithology, hydrocarbon content, and ability to hold and produce gas” (Busby, 1999, p. 20). If they can figure out how the rock layers were formed, they can determine if the conditions were right for “the generation, accumulation, and trapping of hydrocarbons” (Busby, 1999, p. 21).

Geochemical methods use chemical and bacterial analyses of soil and water samples from the surface and the area around underground gas and oil deposits to determine the presence of hydrocarbons. “Micro-seeps” of petroleum can be detected in this way (Busby, 1999, p. 21).

Vitrinite reflectance uses a reflectance microscope to measure the percentage of light which is reflected from vitrinite (plant organic matter found in shale). The percentage can indicate the presence of gas and oil (Busby, 1999, p. 21).

Geophysical methods use sound waves (seismic vibration) to “determine the depth, thickness, and structure of subsurface rock layers and whether they are capable of trapping natural gas and crude oil” (Busby, 1999, p. 22). Computers are used to gather and analyze the data. Geologists can now use 2D, 3D, and 4D seismic imaging in their analysis (Natural Gas, 2013).

On land, explosives and vibrations are used to generate sound waves. The energy that bounces off the rock layers is detected as echoes by sensors called geophones (jugs) (Busby, 1999, p. 23).

Bright spots and flat spots can reveal where deposits of gas-oil and gas-water deposits might exist underground. Amplitude variation with offset (AVO) and geology related imaging programs (GRIP) can enhance the resolution and analysis of bright spots (Busby, 1999, p. 24).

“Cross-well” seismic technology uses seismic energy in one well and sensors in nearby wells to retrieve high-resolution images that have been used successfully in determining the presence of crude oil. It is now being used in natural gas exploration (Busby, 1999, p. 24).

Gravity meters are used to detect salt domes and other rock formations capable of trapping gas and oil. Magnetometers detect the thickness of basement rock and find faults. Computer models create hypothetical pictures of subsurface structures from mathematical computations (Busby, 1999, p. 25).

Drilling

Once geologists determine the geological and economic feasibility of drilling a well, a group of geologists, geophysicists, and engineers pinpoint the site for the well and its potential reservoir. They decide how deep the well should be. The average well is about 5,800 feet deep in the United States. The drilling company must then get permission to drill from the owners of the land and determine who owns the mineral rights.  They sign a lease to use the land for a certain length of time.  The drilling company then breaks ground (spudding) and keeps well logs (measurements) to determine the possibility of gas and oil formation and the porosity and permeability of the rock. The contractors who own the drilling rigs sign an agreement to drill to a certain depth and detail what equipment they will need. A pit is dug at the site and lined with plastic that holds unnecessary materials (Busby, 1999, p. 29-30).

Rotary drills, driven by a diesel engine, are the most common type of drill used because they can drill hundreds and even thousands of feet per day. The drill bit must be changed after 40 to 60 hours of drilling. Other drilling techniques include directional drilling, which allows drilling in multiple directions, horizontal drilling, which is used to enhance gas recovery and to inject fracturing fluids, and offshore drilling, which uses special equipment to drill in ocean water (Busby, 1999, p. 31-35).

Some of the drilling problems that come up include drilling a dry hold; a breakage inside the well; things falling into the well; and high pressures underground causing gas or water to flow into the well, changing the balance of the pressure in the well. Drilling must be halted then and the problem corrected (Busby, 1999, p.33).

Geologists use various tests to measure the probability that the well will produce enough oil and gas. Drilling-time measurements measure the rate of the bit’s penetration into the rock; mud logs measure the chemistry of mud and rock cuttings, looking for traces of gas; wireline logs sense electrical, radioactive, and sonic properties of rocks and fluids; electrical logs test rock for resistivity; gamma ray logs measure radioactivity; neutron logs measure rock density; caliper logs test the type of rock; dip logs look for the placement of rock layers; sonic/acoustic velocity logs measure the speed at which sound travels through rock. Traditionally, these tests were conducted on bare, uncased wells. But new technology allows testing to be done with the casing in place (Busby, 1999, p. 36-37).

If the well comes up dry, the well is plugged up and abandoned. If the well holds promise of a productive well, the bare well is “cased, or lined with metal pipe to seal it from the rock” (Busby, 1999, p.29). A foundation of cement is created. Then the casing is drilled with holes so gas can flow into the well. The flow rate of the gas is measured, and if productive, valves and fittings are installed in order to control the flow. Oil and gas products are separated at the wellhead. A gathering system is built after several wells are completed. Flow lines gather gas from several wells and transport it to a centralized processing facility (Busby, 1999, p. 37-38).

Transmission

“The pipeline industry carries natural gas from producers in the field to distribution companies and to some large industrial customers” (Busby, 1999, p. 43) through large pipes with high pressures, from 500 to 1,000 psi or 3,400 to 6,900 psi). Compressor stations along the lines maintain the pressures in the pipes. “As of the 1990s, more than 300,000 miles of gas pipelines criss-cross the United States, serving nearly 60 million gas customers” (Busby, 1999, p. 43).

Pipes are laid in trenches and coated inside with chemicals to prevent corrosion, improve light reflection, reduce water retention, reduce absorption of gas odorants, and to improve gas flow (Busby, 1999, p. 46-47).

Gas demand depends on weather, the season, and its use in power generation. Pipeline operators try to spread the costs over the whole year. Gas meters are used “to reduce costs and increase the accuracy of gas flow measurement” (Busby, 1999, p. 51).

Pipeline inspection and maintenance have to be done on a regular basis to detect gas leaks, address corrosion, repair damage, and to keep the gas flowing smoothly (Busby, 1999, p.  51-53).

Economic Concerns

During exploration, there is no guarantee that all the money spent on research, testing, and drilling will be recouped. If a well is productive, royalties must be paid to the owner of the mineral rights after all production costs are paid. State and federal governments regulate how many wells can exist per 640 acres and how much gas and oil can be produced over a certain time period. Offshore drilling, which has become more common, is very expensive because these oil rigs use special equipment and can drill as deep as 10,400 feet. When wells are losing pressure and running dry, companies must spend money on well stimulation. In fact, companies give priority to this because it costs less than exploring for new wells. It’s been estimated that the oil and gas companies spend roughly $5 billion on treating natural gas before it is ever transmitted through a pipeline. Pipelines and compressor stations must be built, inspected, repaired, and maintained. Environmental regulations cost companies money on research and new technologies (Busby, 1999, p. 15-54).

If oil and gas supplies diminish or are suddenly cut off, access to energy is decreased, and costs sky-rocket. When pipelines break or oil rigs are damaged or destroyed, this causes a disruption in the oil and gas supply. If the disruption lasts long enough, it can raise costs to the consumer. Political conflicts affect oil and gas supplies, energy costs, and the ability of companies to find new sources (Busby, 1999, p.15-54).

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

October 22, 2020; March 18, 2022

Copyright 2020-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved!

Busby, R.L. (Ed.). (1999). Natural Gas in Nontechnical Language. Tulsa, OK: PennWell.

Natural Gas. (2013). Natural gas and the environment. Retrieved from

       http://www.naturalgas.org

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Technicolor, VistaVision, and the Widescreen Visual Experience

ATTENTION! SPOILER ALERT!

Not only did John Ford film the 1956 movie, The Searchers, in brilliant Technicolor, but he filmed it in VistaVision, providing the audience with an enhanced widescreen visual experience.

http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm

Movies made in VistaVision were intended to be viewed in theaters with large screens, both in height and width. VistaVision technology created an “optical reduction from a large negative image to the standard release print image . . . [that improved] the front and side seat viewing” (American WideScreen Museum) in widescreen formats.

John Ford’s spectacular landscape shots of Monument Valley (cinematographer Winton C. Hoch) were perfect for both Technicolor and widescreen viewing. Here are some examples:

In this wide angle long shot, the audience sees the renegade Comanches attacking the search party from two sides and chasing them through the valley. The landscape is open and wide, giving the impression of an unlimited environment with no place to hide. Will the search party survive this attack?

In this long shot, the searchers forge ahead with the search for the lost child, Debbie, in spite of a desolate desert landscape, storms, and few provisions. It is a dramatic scene which highlights the grim determination of the men involved.

In the final long shot, John Wayne walks away, after reuniting Debbie with her adopted brother, in order to avoid being arrested for murder. He is framed in black, indicating that this is the end of the story, and he will probably never return. He is a loner who got his revenge, found personal redemption, and saved his family. He is the hero of the story— but he is also a broken man who does not fit into civilized society. He has not necessarily overcome his bitterness and racism. He merely decided that saving one of the last members of his family was more important than killing her.

If John Ford’s intention was to highlight spectacular landscapes and provide the audience with an incredible widescreen experience, Technicolor and VistaVision were the right film stock and technology to use.

But if it was his intention to tell a dramatic and tension-filled story, he might have done better to use black and white film stock. The bright colors and wide angle screen shots detract from the story. It is easy to get caught up in the visual spectacle and miss what’s happening in the story. Barsam and Monahan describe The Searchers as “a psychological western that is concerned less with the traditional western’s struggle between good and evil than with the lead character’s struggle against personal demons” (Barsam and Monahan 216). They conclude that the movie “might have been even more powerful shot in black and white instead of color.  Doing so might have produced a visual mood, as in film noir, that complemented the darkness at the heart of the movie’s narrative” (Barsam and Monahan 216).

John Ford was not striving for accuracy and authenticity in The Searchers, and the use of color highlights the movie’s many flaws. Viewers in the 1950s were not as familiar with the Southwest as they are today. In 2017, John Ford could not get away with filming a western in Monument Valley (which is located in Northern Arizona and Utah), and slapping on an intertitle identifying the location as Texas. The viewers would not accept it. Neither would they accept a white actor with gray or hazel eyes masquerading as a full-blooded Comanche wearing all-too-bright red and yellow war paint. The women in Scar’s tribe of renegade Comanches are attired in traditional Navajo clothing – including John Wayne’s lost niece, Debbie (Natalie Wood). Today’s Navajos watch movies and would eagerly point out this historical inaccuracy. (Monument Valley is Navajo country, and it is obvious from the movie that Ford employed local natives to masquerade as Comanches. As part of my job, I worked with members of the Navajo, Hopi, and Apache tribes. I found the inaccuracies in The Searchers to be jarring, even though I first saw the movie on TV many years ago as a child.) Black and white film might have minimized the obvious flaws.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 1, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

11 Comments »

Creating Soundtracks in Movies

(Wayne’s World)

How Sound Focuses Attention on Spatial and Temporal Relationships

       Sound affects the movie audience on the physical, emotional, and psychological levels.  This is true even if the audience is not aware of the effects.  Sound can contribute to the suspense or romance of the story.  It can help to establish the time period and genre.  Sound colors audience perceptions and expectations.  It contributes to the meaning of the movie.

       Sound is part of the total world (diegesis) of a movie (Barsam and Monahan, 136, 371).  Footsteps, doorbells, bird songs, gunfire, brakes screeching, crickets creaking, etc., add to the realism of the movie.  Without real-world sounds, modern audiences would perceive that something is missing.

       Diegetic sounds originate from within the world of the movie.  Both the audience and the characters hear the sounds, even though the sounds are not usually added to the movie until later (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       Nondiegetic sounds, which originate from outside the world of the movie, can be heard only by the audience.  They play on the audiences’ senses, but they do not affect the characters in the movie (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       The sound most often heard in movies is diegetic sound.  It can be “internal or external, on-screen or off-screen, and recorded during the production or constructed during postproduction” Barsam and Monahan, 372).  Diegetic sound gives the audience “an awareness of both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of the shot from which the sound emanates” (Barsam and Monahan, 371).

       If a character knocks on a door, the diegetic on-screen sound of knocking “occurs simultaneously with the image” (Barsam and Monahan, 372).   If a narrator explains why the character is knocking on the door, only the audience hears the narration.  This is nondiegetic off-screen sound.  If the character starts thinking about why he is knocking on the door, this is internal sound.  If an unseen bird starts singing in the background, the character can hear it, and this is considered external sound (Barsam and Monahan, 372-374).

       In Dennis Hopper’s 1969 movie, Easy Rider, the nondiegetic soundtrack sets the time period as the 1960s.  The music is consistent with the costumes, the action, and the story. The loud shotgun blasts which kill the two protagonists are diegetic sounds heard by both the characters and the audience.  The suddenness of the sounds simultaneously occurring with the action, shocks and disturbs the audience.

       Orson Welles pioneered the use of multiple layers of sound in Citizen Kane.  The party scene at the Inquirer’s offices uses “deep-focus sound that functions much like deep-focus cinematography” (Barsam and Monahan, 397).  The characters in the scene include musicians, dancers, waiters, journalists, and the main protagonists.  While the band plays, the dancers dance, and Charles Kane (Orson Welles) sings, Mr. Bernstein (Everett Sloane) and Jed Leland (Joseph Cotton) talk to each other in a corner.  Deep-focus cinematography keeps the camera focused on Charles Kane as the main subject, but a microphone makes the voices of Jed and Bernstein stand out from the rest of the sounds at the party (Barsam and Monahan, 397-398).

       The spatial and temporal relationships of the characters within the setting are established through Welles’ use of sound.  Jed and Bernstein’s conversation is distinctly heard by the audience because the camera is closer to these two characters (Barsam and Monahan, 399).  Jed and Bernstein are free to discuss their impressions of Charles Kane while Kane celebrates his own success.  Kane dominates the room while everyone else is shown celebrating his celebrity and worshipping at his feet.  Money and power talk louder here than anything else, and the scene clearly depicts Kane’s megalomania and domination of his employees.  At the same time, Jed Leland’s conversation reveals his disappointment and disillusionment with Kane.  The sound mix allows for a realistic portrayal of the scene.

       Consciously or unconsciously, the audience is affected by sound and how it is manipulated and incorporated into a movie.  As technology progresses, sound engineering will become a bigger component in movies.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 6, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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Hollywood Filmmaking Today

 Photo by Thea Hdc on Unsplash

      As Hollywood evolved from small production companies into large corporations, so did the financing of motion pictures.  Large corporations could sell stock and borrow money from well-heeled investors.  But this depended on the reliability of the investment.  Investor fears of risky ventures forced Hollywood corporations to incorporate traditional business practices: “efficient management, timely production practices, and profitable results” (Lewis 477).  Hollywood developed standardized practices that still survive today.

       The Hollywood studios held a virtual monopoly over the production, distribution, and exhibition of motion pictures until 1948.  With the Paramount decision, this monopoly came to an end.  Suddenly, the studios lost much of the real estate they had used as collateral to borrow money.  Following the example of independent filmmakers, such as David O. Selznick, the studios replaced the studio system with the independent system (Lewis 477).

       Today, filmmakers have many options for obtaining financing.  “Money may come from the studio, the producer, the investment community, or (most probably) a combination of these” (Lewis 477).  Financing may be procured in stages as the production progresses.  Controlling costs is a major concern, especially when it is difficult to accurately predict them (Lewis 479).

       Under the studio system, the budget was based on direct and indirect costs.  “Direct costs included everything from art direction and cinematography to insurance.  Indirect costs, usually 20 percent of the direct costs, covered the studio’s overall contribution to ‘overhead’” (Lewis 479).  The independent system calculates costs according to a 30/70 configuration.

       Costs can become inflated by the use of union labor (Lewis 476), special effects technology, personnel with special expert skills, and the high salaries commanded by superstar actors, producers, and directors.  Sometimes, it is possible to negotiate contracts that reduce upfront costs and benefit all parties involved.

       Marketing, distributing, and exhibiting motion pictures depend on the product produced.  Exclusive and limited releases assess audiences’ initial response; key-city releases assess audience reaction on a second-run basis; and “wide and saturated releases on hundreds or thousands of screens in the major markets . . . [test audience reaction] as good reviews and word of mouth build public awareness and demand” (Lewis 482).  While studios have established methods for bringing their films to market, independents use various methods.  They can rent their films to a studio or producing organization with the means to market, distribute, and exhibit them (Lewis 482).

       Experts determine release dates, arrange tie-ins with toys, books, and other merchandise, decide screening locations, form contracts with DVD and streaming companies, work on advertising and publicity, and complete negotiations on domestic and foreign rights.  Others calculate rental and download costs, ticket prices, and length of runs (Lewis 482).  Movies are an expensive commodity!

       Today, Hollywood comprises a combination of a modernized studio system and independent production companies that may or may not be part of a studio company.  In total, this collection of Hollywood filmmakers grossed $10.9 billion in revenue in 2013 (Lewis 483).  As Hollywood continues to evolve, it will discover new avenues of financing and generating revenue.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 23, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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