Case study: Implementing business continuity in the upstream and midstream energy sector (petrochemicals and refineries)

Get free weekly news by e-mailBy Vincent Tombros, consultant, Lysis Ltd.


The subjects of business continuity and disaster recovery planning have traditionally been associated with the work functions, processes and standard IT / telecoms services that are in place in offices, buildings, data centres and other such facilities. This should obviously be the focus for sectors such as finance, insurance and professional/IT services. However, with industrial sectors such as mining and oil exploration and processing, the emphasis shifts to the resilience and recoverability of key plant and equipment, together with the technical personnel and specialised computer applications that support the continuance of supply of products. Subsequently, the methodology, tools and people capabilities required to develop such ‘production unit business continuity plans’ (PU BCPs) are often different to those employed in the development of office/building BCPs. This case study provides a summary of how to successfully implement business continuity and disaster recovery planning in a processing facility, such as a refinery, petrochemical plant or oil/gas processing unit.

Case study introduction

This case study addresses a recent business continuity and disaster recovery planning implementation in one of the largest petrochemical companies in the Middle East, located within an industrial city that contains over 15 similarly large companies (refineries, fertiliser producers, steel manufacturing, etc.).

This company is a joint venture between the national petrochemical company (itself among the top 10 petrochemical companies worldwide) and an international integrated oil major headquartered in Europe. The company produces various chemicals (Ethylene, Crude Industrial Ethanol, Styrene, Caustic Soda, Ethylene Dichloride) which are shipped to clients worldwide. It receives raw materials, supplies, feedstocks (Ethane, Benzene, Methanol, etc.) and utilities (cooling water, gas, electricity, etc.) from private and public organisations within and outside the industrial city.

The petrochemical complex consists of six production units (each producing a specific chemical product); offices within the main plant for engineers and operations personnel; offices outside the main plant area housing the head office functions (finance, HR, etc.); various other buildings (warehouses, security stations, etc.); and, IT and telecoms centres.

Business continuity plan development

Following initial analysis and extensive stakeholder engagement, the company decided to introduce business continuity planning as follows:

* BCPs to be developed for each production unit (PU) – a total of 6 PU BCPs. Each PU BCP would be a robust, stand-alone document that would enable the PU manager to respond and recover from major disruptions.

* BCPs to be developed for the head offices (including computer / telecoms centre and security) and for the operations offices (located within the plant) – total of two office BCPs.

It was recognised early that a different set of skills and experience would be required between the development of the PU BCPs and office/IT BCPs. Subsequently:

* For each PU BCP, a technical BCP development team was formed consisting of production engineers, technical specialists, production control and automation experts, process safety engineers and an external technical BCP facilitator. Each team was led by the PU manager.

* For the office BCP, the BCP development team consisted (as is usually the case) from representatives from the main functions (finance, etc.), IT, telecoms and an external office BCP facilitator. The team was led by the finance director.

The business continuity plan development methodology applied was based on BS 25999, as the company wanted to lead the way in the region in the adoption of the standard. The BCPs were completed and implemented (with relevant training and testing carried out) in 2008.

Learning experiences

The development of business continuity plans for offices and IT services was more or less similar than that for other large companies in the Middle East and beyond. Of more interest to the BCP practitioner are the lessons learnt from the development of PU BCPs, as there is limited literature available on this subject.

The development of PU BCPs represented a significant challenge as it required the BCP development team to adopt a different mindset as, in the past, recovery from operational disruptions was perceived to be the sole responsibility of operations using the standard plant operating instructions and process safety documentation. Engaging the PU manager to act as the BCP development leader (and running initial BCP awareness/engagement workshops) was essential in bringing the engineers to a common level of understanding of what the company aimed to achieve.

Also, significant analysis by external technical experts was necessary to identify the engineering and technology requirements for disruption mitigation and recovery.

The outcomes were the PU BCPs which contained both technical and management information including:

* The BCP organisation for response and recovery; the BCP command centre; etc.

* The main scenarios for PU disruption and the business impact analysis. This also addressed disruptions in critical equipment within the PU. For each main scenario, specific actions were indentified for prevention and mitigation.

* Minimum manning levels and essential resources for PU operations and management for various timescales based on internal and external customer needs.

* Various strategies adopted for re-routing supplies, sub-contracting activities, critical spare reviews, load shedding, and so on.

* Technology recovery issues for the production control and automation (PLC) systems, DCS, LAN, ESD (emergency shutdown) systems, CCR (central control rooms) and so on.

* Critical engineering data recovery.

* Third party review of the capability of local sub-contractors (machine shops, lifting equipment, laboratory analysis, etc.) and the development of SLAs – service level agreements.

The following recommendations are made for future implementations of PU BCPs:

* BCP development team selection: make sure the team contains the most experienced technical experts from production, safety, engineering, etc.

* Stakeholder engagement: don’t let PU BCP development be seen as only an engineering initiative. Engage senior management in the strategy development and subsequent stages. Keep shareholders aware of the work in order to share lessons learnt when rolling out such work to other businesses in the group.

* Time management: do not underestimate the time needed to obtain and analyse all the required technical information that supports the BCP. (Such information will include P&ID diagrams, process safety studies, plant operating instructions, operating capacities, and so on). In some companies, that information is not readily available or up-to-date.

* Attention to detail: ensure facts and figures (e.g. minimum capacities of tank storage) are correctly assessed as both the costs of disruption (based on current prices of petrochemical products) and costs of mitigating such disruptions are very high.

Author: Vincent Tombros is a consultant with Lysis Ltd. For questions/comments on this article, contact

If you have a relevant case study you would be willing to share with the business continuity community please email

Date: 15th July 2008• Region: M.East/World •Type: Article •Topic: Plan development
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