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"Yes, we can make this happen."

Even under the most ideal circumstances, achieving targets for an STO (shutdown, turnaround, outage) is a challenge. However, ideal circumstances are hard to come by, making a successful STO often call for incredible forsight to see the unexpected curveballs coming before they are even thrown. In other words, you must be prepared for anything.

by Jennifer Layer

A recent example of this anything that has tormented our Canadian neighbors is fire. With gigantic wild fires crossing the entire Canadian Oil Sands in the spring of 2017 followed by site wide fires at Canadian diluent supplier facilities, one company was still able to knock their STO curveball out of the park.  

While still in the planning stages of their upcoming shutdown, Mark Banham - a TAR expert with over 20 years experience - the site, and his team were faced with a dilemma. One of their diluent suppliers had a major fire at their facility causing a decline in their supply which would significantly impact the company’s overall production.

“Because of this curtailment, the discussion became focused on what can we do now so that by the time we get our diluent back we can progress as normal without having to shut the plant down all over again.”

Instead of viewing this unexpected situation as a setback, Banham and his team saw this challenge as an opportunity of great significance; a chance to do something that has never been done before.

“With the curtailment in mind, the business asked us if we could bring the execution of the shutdown forward by six months. Generally something that is just not done within shutdowns,” said Banham. “However, we’d already developed an effective STO program which required us to  plan out the work, to be ready for a shutdown 12 months before the execution of the actual event. Because of this, we’d projectized the whole shutdown planning and work activities and thus were in a position where we could pull it forward six months. So we went back to the business and said, ‘yep, we can make this happen.’”

Despite the confidence in their preparation to bring the shutdown forward by such a significant amount of time, this would still not be a simple thing to do. There were many tasks that were still required. Contractors had not yet been mobilized, the histogram had not been finalized, and the pre-work had not been completed. But as they say, good things don’t come easy, and Banham knew that his team could handle the pressure.

One important challenge their team faced, as with any shutdown, was making sure the work was done safely. Given their particular situation, there were a few hurdles to overcome in order to allow for a safe work environment in the field. At the start of the event, the materials and equipment had not yet been staged. Thus, the management team had to be very diligent in their approach to make sure everyone had enough time and information to understand what all was going on. 

“A successful shutdown, or any activity for that matter, is zero injuries,” said Banham, “We put some plot plans out here for people to see, and did a number of contractor inductions and toolbox talks. In the first seven days, we spent a significant part of our time walking around the site looking for issues, or anything that was a cause for concern for the guys working in the field. Just cementing the message that safety is the most important factor.

"Even though we cut the time we didn’t cut any corners as far as safety.”

In the end, the project was delivered on schedule, under budget, with zero injuries, and zero lost time incidents. This is a feat that most business’ can’t claim even under the most fortunate of circumstances. Banham credits the success of this shutdown to three major factors:

First things first is: scope.

“The most important thing in this, is understanding what your scope is and applying  a scope freeze,” said Banham. “All assets have a maintenance and asset integrity work scope and this is your base scope for shutdowns. Nothing is more important that knowing and sticking to your scope. You will also have modification projects and operational cleaning scope within the shutdown so its important to ensure those stakeholders have early engagement and estimates for duration and manpower.”

“So if you have your base scope defined, you can order your materials, and you understand your sequence of events on how you’re going to shut the plant down,” said Banham.

The next major influential factor is: execution.

“Execution efficiency is a major component,” said Banham. “What pre work can you get done now? How are we going to stage all of our materials? How many people do we need? How are we going to get those crews to work effectively across the plant so they’re not clashing? You can and should define it to the minutest detail.”

Flowing directly into and out of execution is major factor number three: communication and teamwork.

“Often times, operations, projects, and maintenance crews, don’t like to be held accountable to a date especially when there is no flexibility. They feel threatened by that,” said Banham. “So you have to do a lot of effective communication in getting everyone to understand why you’re doing it. And once you’ve got that and you see the result everything falls into place.”

With team and site members in multiple locations during the preparation phase, communication was vital to keep the entire team and site aligned. Prior to and throughout the shutdown, Banham and his team had to facilitate extensive communication throughout the entire company, with newsletters, presentations, and morning meetings. The communication was significant not only in making sure everyone understood what was going on but also to make sure everyone felt ownership of their objectives and felt respected for the work they were doing in such a short time frame.

“In general it’s not about any one person,” said Banham, “it’s about team effort. I can’t name any one worker specifically who went above and beyond cause if I started now I’d probably still be reading off names for the entire interview. It couldn’t have been done without the teams all coming together and that’s all the different functions from operations, to maintenance, to projects, to HSE, to even our camp director. All of the people contributed to that success.”

“There will always be people coming back saying ‘well how did you do that, what were the challenges?’ And we have that learning now which is great,” said Banham. “So we can actually articulate that to different parts of the business and ensure that we continue to be just as successful in the future.”






Mark Banham

Having over 30 years of worldwide industry experience in oil, gas, and mining, Banham is very familiar with the challenges of running and achieving targets successfully. Throughout his career Banham’s vast experience has encompassed the management and directing of mega projects, brownfield and maintenance projects, construction and commissioning, new build facilities, turnarounds, shutdowns, and drilling. Additionally, he has worked in an owner role, EPC, EPCM, Consulting and direct construction capacity allowing him to understand the value chain from both the contractor and owner perspective.