The fire continued to spread across northern Alberta into Saskatchewan, consuming forested areas and impacting Athabasca Oilsands operations. With an estimated damage cost of C$9.9 billion, it was the costliest disaster in Canadian History.

By Gobind Khiani – Consulting Fellow-Piping/Pipelines

The fire spread across approximately 590,000 hectares (1,500,000 acres) before it was declared to be under control on July 5, 2016. It continued to smolder, and was fully extinguished on August 2, 2017. It is suspected to have been caused by humans in a remote area 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) from Fort McMurray, but no official cause has been determined to date.

As the North American oil & gas infrastructure ages, changes have been made to facilities during their lifetime, which may not have been transferred to the official recorded drawings of the facilities. Government regulations have also changed during the life of the facilities, rendering some system components noncompliant.
Forward thinking companies have decided to review facilities, correct any deficiencies and to record drawings to ensure that recorded drawings reflect the actual facility, and to perform a process hazards analysis (PHA) on the facilities to identify potential hazards and/or operability problems.

The PHAs produced a list of recommendations that are required to be acted on to resolve the issues in the recommendations. The studies indicate that significant deficiencies exist at older facilities, and those repairs and/or modifications are required. Significant cost is associated with the drawing updates, PHA processes, and recommendation resolution.


Oil & gas companies should be committed to safeguarding all assets of the organization, maintaining the safety of operations and applying risk management throughout. In Alberta, there are requirements for complying with various engineering codes, occupational health and safety legislation, recommended practices, and standards.  Assessments conducted as a part of AIMS projects are useful for ensuring compliance.
The execution of AIMS projects should be a corporate responsibility and delegated to the applicable operations group. Associated responsibilities include scheduling and conducting hazard and operability studies (HAZOPS), advising management on risk and tracking the resolution of recommendations.

HAZOPs are conducted by teams of qualified people that collectively possess process knowledge, subject matter expertise, and relevant work experience.  Membership on a HAZOP team will normally include a facilitator, engineers, operations staff, and engineering procurement and construction management companies (EPCMs). Where appropriate, training will be provided to ensure the competence of individual team members by AIMS manager.
EPCM firms often support AIMS projects by providing resources needed to complete specific tasks (e.g., field inspections, updating process and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs), completing calculations, etc.) The qualifications of these firms and individuals are established to the satisfaction of the operating company when contracts are signed. The operations engineer and the oil & gas AIMs manager supervises the activities of the EPCMs.
The steps involved in implementing the AIMS work process include:

  • Identify facilities to be evaluated un-der the AIMS work process.
  • Establish annual schedules for AIMS projects using risk-based criteria to prioritize sites (e.g., based on horse-power, materials handled, type of facility, setting, etc.).
  • Obtain business unit (BU) leadership approval for annual schedules and budgets.
  • Individual AIMS Projects:
    • Prepare/update as-built drawings for selected sites
    • Prepare/update P&IDs, site plans and area classification drawings
    • Verify the sizing of pressure safety valves (PSVs), control valves, vents and drains
    • Verify material and energy balances
    • Verify aging piping and associated equipments and prepare for replacement to reduce GHGs and Methane Emissions
    • Review shutdown keys
    • Conduct hazard and operability studies (HAZOPs)
    • Evaluate report findings, review recommendations and categorize them using the operating company risk matrix (impacts and likelihood)
    • Prepare and distribute HAZOP reports
    • Discuss deficiency rectification actions required of the operating company and EPCM
    • Sign-off on action items after the operating company internal review
    • Prepare rectification drawing package for tender to qualified contractors
    • Obtain competitive pricing and select contractor to complete HAZOP recommendations
    • Monitor and report the status of deficiency rectification actions to appropriate asset team leads
    • Verify that deficiency rectification actions have been completed
    • Modify drawings and documents as necessary to reflect ‘as-built’
    • Return critical documents and drawings to the company document system
  • Conduct a look back to review over-all adequacy, suitability and effectiveness of the AIMS program with oil & gas leadership team annually.
  • Update AIMS schedules annually (incorporating appropriate re-validation of location-specific HAZOPs every 5-10 years).

Figure 1

Personnel supervising and conducting AIMS studies and HAZOPs should be competent based on knowledge, education, training, and relevant work experience. Where necessary and appropriate, specific training is to be provided to ensure the competence of individual team members.

Qualifications for EPCMs will be evaluated for each AIMs project to ensure competence based on knowledge, education, training, and relevant work experience. At a minimum, EPCMs shall have documented environment, health, and safety (EH&S) training, general liability insurance, a quality assurance (QA) manual, and an agreement with the owner company. The personnel from each EPCM must have adequate professional qualifications such that a meaningful and accountable review can take place. The senior process engineer should be a professional engineer with an appropriate engineering degree and at least 10 years working experience in the process engineering field. Other participants should have technical backgrounds in instrumentation and project management, with significant experience in their discipline.

Project Schedules

Schedules for conducting AIMS projects should be reviewed from a companywide perspective, and be prepared annually by the operations group responsible for the AIMS program in conjunction with the particular area manager. Schedules should be prepared with consideration of several factors including, but not limited to:
  • Risks associated with specific facilities (e.g., oil vs. gas, installed horse-power, setting, size of workforce, type of operations, etc.).
  • Length of time since previous assessment (re-validation of HAZOP).
  • Operations impact.
  • Approved capital maintenance budgets.
  • Resource availability​

Schedules prepared by the AIMs manager are to be presented to the area leadership team for review and approval at an appropriate time for consideration during preparation of budgets.

Documentation and Record-keeping Requirements

All phases of the AIMS projects require adequate documentation. The projects are typically broken into three phases.
Phase 1: As-built drawings documentation of the as-built set of drawings is extremely important as it is the basis for the HAZOP. The as-built set of drawings represents the actual site conditions existing at the time of the HAZOP.

Phase 2: Process calculations and HAZOP. The engineering calculations for heat and material balance, control valves, and PSVs are essential in determining the safe operation of the facility. The HAZOP is a structured review of the operability of each major segment or node of the facility in question. All possible failure modes are reviewed and recommendations made for correction of those items that pose a major risk to the facility or safety of the operating staff or public.

Phase 3: HAZOP Recommendations. Recommendations represent the output from the HAZOP and identify those items that may pose a risk to the operability and safety of the facility in question and must be documented so that a structured follow up can be done. The status of individual deficiency rectification actions versus predefined project milestones is tracked on a weekly basis to ensure a timely completion of the rectification process. Four copies of AIMS related documents (e.g., HAZOP assessment reports) are required of each EPCM. These documents are distributed to:

  • Operations Engineer,
  • Drawing Control,
  • Area Facilities Engineer,
  • Field Operations.
Upon project completion, documents and records related to the project are to be sent to the field location and up-loaded into corporate document control, where they are to be maintained for the life of the facility. Documents and records are to be updated when appropriate.

Figure 2

The following indicators can be used to monitor the performance of the AIMs process:
  • Per cent completion of AIMs studies in accordance with established schedules.
  • Establishment of rectification plans for extreme/high risk deficiencies within six months.
  • Correction of extreme/high risk deficiencies within one year.
  • Per cent completion of deficiency rectification actions according to schedules established in location-specific HAZOPs.
  • Costs vs. budget.​​

Reviews should be conducted by the AIMs manager every five years to verify that the AIMs work process is being carried out as planned and is meeting desired performance objectives and reported to the operations engineering advisory team lead.

Updates on the performance of the AIMs work process and the status of its implementation should be provided to the leadership team annually. The focus of these discussions will be to ensure the on-going suitability, adequacy and effectiveness of the program.


Recent history of approximately 35 AIMS projects identified 800 items that required immediate attention and a further 800 items that could be handled on an as required basis. This could be considered typical of older facilities and indicates the necessity to review facilities on a regular schedule.

AIMS projects will typically require expenditures in the order of several millions of dollars over a period of 12 to 18 months from the initiation of the HAZOP through the completion of deficiency rectification, for gas compression site up to a maximum size of 13,000 horsepower. Large oil batteries may cost more. In practice, the resources required to complete each AIMS project vary based upon a number of factors including the size and complexity of the facility or operation, the nature and extent of deficiencies found and other factors.


Gobind N Khiani, a U Calgary alumnus of Masters in Mechanical Engineering is a seasoned change-maker. He has a proven track record in technical and value engineering and holds a Fellowship in Engineering and an MBA. He is the Chairman of the End User Group at API and Vice Chairman of the Standards Council of Canada. He has done peer review on Emissions Management regulatory documents for ECCA and participated in research and development initiatives.
Further, his experience is in the energy sector in the improvement of standards, technical compliance, strategy, governance, digital innovation, engineering management, technology, sustainable development, and operations. He is also skilled in Asset Integrity and Maintenance Management. As a volunteer, he is involved in technical standards (energy, tech, public safety) and has been a mentor/judge at First Robotics Canada. He is also the past chair of the CBEC of APEGA.


  1. ASME International, Three Park Ave., New York, NY 10016-5990
  2. CSA International, 178 Rexdale Blvd., Toronto, Ontario, CANADA M9W 1R3
  3. American Petroleum Institute (API), 1220 L St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005-4070
  4. NACE International, The Corrosion Society, 1440 South Creek Drive, Houston, TX USA 77084-4906
  5. CEPA, Canadian Energy Pipeline Association of Canada, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  6. University of Calgary
  7. Oil, Gas and Engineering Companies of Canada.

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