Ask most any knowledgeable engineer in any industry what complexity has done to modern design, and they’ll likely tell you the number of risk points has increased. This of course includes larger systems like refineries and fractionation facilities, which have gradually improved over the years with careful risk and reliability assessments.
However, as some oil and gas companies today weather the volatility of global prices by making their operations leaner, it’s more important than ever for any new projects that move forward — as well as any existing infrastructure and processes — to be low-risk and relatively free of major disruptions. As such, the industry incorporates thorough, professional risk and reliability evaluation into exploration, production, and maintenance.
Risk and reliability analyses differ depending on the task. In design and engineering they ask whether a system can function properly and what the consequences are when it does not. Reliability assessments and design audits are used to determine how effective or risk-laden an engineered design may be for safety and environmental considerations. These assessments and audits increasingly rely on model-based systems engineering software to minimize risk and maximize long-term production. Developers like ANSYS develop this kind of software, capable of evaluating system design and product integrity to ensure low failure rates and safer processes. Such software may also analyze a design for the most likely failure modes and determine the potential effects of those failures.
Risk and reliability assessment can also be multidisciplinary, tapping into geological, financial, and research data to gauge whether an exploration project is worth pursuing or determine the viability of several different extraction methods. Another software system, GoldSim, uses probabilistic risk assessment and analysis to better gauge more than just engineering designs and system processes. It can also provide risk and reliability analyses of oil and gas reserves, future commodity markets, exploration opportunities, and asset values.
Risk and reliability analysis is so important that some higher education institutions offer graduate-level programs on the topic. Vanderbilt and the University of Maryland in the U.S. as well as the University of Strathclyde and University of Aberdeen in the U.K. are representative examples of such institutions. The programs are typically multidisciplinary in nature and cover tools and methods common to risk assessment, applied probability and statistics, and system reliability modeling among other topics.