NASA, Deloitte form alliance

July 2, 2013

NASA directors and staff gathered at Johnson Space Center in Houston to sign a new alliance with risk management firm Deloitte on June 27. The new partnership aims to utilize NASA’s proven practical applications such as risk analysis programs, safety culture, and advanced technologies to benefit multiple sectors including the oil and gas industry.

Houston-based principal at Deloitte & Touche, LLP, David Traylor, said the partnership was born out of Traylor’s frustration with not being able to show his oil and gas customers proven methods for risk management.

“We couldn’t find anyone else operated international space stations or who launched rockets,” Traylor quipped. “NASA is uniquely qualified because of their experiences.

“What NASA brings to us is proven practical applications that Deloitte has invested in bringing to our industry clients,” Traylor said. “They’ve operated with these capabilities. They also bring the passion, and it’s not something that should be overlooked, they bring a passion and commitment that is similar to that of the oil and gas industry that we believe it is a perfect match. Deloitte doesn’t operate complex systems. We have never had to recover from an unfortunate event, the loss of a space shuttle.”

“We ran the shuttle program for 30 years,” said Bill MacArthur, NASA’s director of Safety and Mission Assurance.  “We’ve learned some painful lessons along the way. We do our best to understand the risk. We had a number of processes that we adhered to very rigorously that characterized risk in clear terms. We used this to make decision trades. If we met this decision the risk would be 1 and 10,000 or 1 and 25,000. What’s the cost? If we were smart in our trade-offs we could have a significant impact on the risk exposed to the crew.”

Traylor said the program’s not just about risk, but also having a full suite of capabilities available to clients.

When asked how this type of risk program could have prevented a Macondo, Traylor said it wouldn’t, necessarily.

“It would reduce the probability, but not prevent the accident,” he said.

MacArthur added: “These are complex systems. The risks look like a minor anomaly, but they have serious consequences. Modeling and simulation can create these events; you can vary the parameters and if you apply more money and design to certain areas, you can see whether you can reduce the likelihood of the event.”

One hope alliance members have for the future is to advance new technologies and share them with the oil and gas sector. One such technology called Remote Decision Support Systems could have wide implications for oil and gas exploration and production companies operating in rough environments.

This automated technology came about after NASA discovered communications between manned space missions and the command center could take 10 minutes before they arrive on-site. When an emergency situation hits, the crew likely will not have time to wait.

“Much like NASA has its mission control centers, oil and gas companies do, too. In an emergency situation, operators need to have immediate responses to what’s going on. They need something to measure the gap,” Traylor said.

The way it works, the remote decision support system – or “NASA in a Box” as Traylor described it – utilizes Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to augment real-time decision-making during emergency situations.

“A.I. acts like a human brain, it learns how we learn,” Traylor said. The device would give operators instant advice, and take control of the emergency situation, minimizing human error.

With a system like this, Deloitte said it would not get into the business of creating this type of technology. Either NASA will develop the technology, or they will have already developed it. Sometimes it will fall on Deloitte’s oil and gas clients to design and develop, Traylor said.

Another aspect that NASA brings to the partnership is its deeply ingrained safety culture, which MacArthur said the space agency fiercely protects from eroding, even in times such as now with tight budget constraints.

“Our safety culture was developed the hard way,” MacArthur said. “There’s a saying, a smart person learns from their mistakes; we’re smart people because we’ve made a lot of mistakes.”

Image: From left to right: John England (Deloitte), David Traylor (Deloitte), Bill MacArthur (NASA)| Photo: Audrey Leon/OE

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