Posted by: Jaring | February 2, 2009

A Practical Guide for Preparing and Conducting Case Studies in Oil and Gas Industry

Abstract—Case study can be also conducted in oil and gas industry. This paper presents guidance or framework for everyone who want to prepare and conduct case study in oil and gas sector. This paper is started from basic definition of case study continued with reasons to use case study in this sector. Then, type of case study and its context are determined. Beside that. guidance to provide protocol of case study is described on this paper. This paper is finished with real step of conducting case study, conclusion and points of evaluation.


In some professional fields, eg. medicine, social work, law, all cases are studied and recorded (Ofori, 2009). However, in this paper we will not deal with that sectors. This paper describes step-by-step guidance for one who has passion to conduct case study in oil and gas industry. We will discuss each steps of developing case study in this sector, starting from basic definition of case study, finding reasons why we use case study method, determining type of case study until the most last steps, drawing some conclusions and discussing methods to evaluate whether our case study is good or not. Sometimes, during our discussion, we will use sample of case to be implemented in our discussion topic so that it can be explained more clearly.

As we know, there are several ways to conduct a research, we can name it as research strategies. Those are experiment, survey, archival analysis, history and case study (Yin, 1987). The latest stated strategy is used extensively in social science research – including the traditional disciplines (psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, history and economics) as well as practice-oriented fields such as urban planning, public administration, public policy, management sciences, and education (Yin, 1987). However, it does not mean that we can not implement case study to investigate or do some research in oil and gas sector. For example, Hatakenaka et al. (2006) have done comparative case study about oil and gas industry which has relationship with development in Stavanger and Aberdeen.

In their paper, Hatakenaka et al. (2006) agreed that the oil and gas industry is among the most technology intensive and highly globalized industry. Its harsh and sometime extreme environment made all methods and tolls involved in this industry should be in good performance and acceptable in latest codes and standards. The industry also can be found in whole world, we can find this industry in 5 (five) continents, Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa and America. Thus, we can imagine the problem complexity and various of cases which had or would be happened both in past and the future of this industry.

If we discuss about oil and gas industry, it would be very long stage of industry, from exploration of petroleum (oil and gas) that is known as up stream until its distribution into market which is known as down stream. This paper limits the definition of oil and gas industry only in its up stream stage, which are from exploration up to production stage.

Case study has several meanings according to who has defined it. Some definitions both from book writers and internet would be presented here in order to catch up the meaning of it clearly. Yin (1987) defines a case study is as an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident; and in which multiple sources of evidence are used. From this long definition, we can absorb several key words from the meaning of case study, those are investigation, contemporary phenomenon, real-life context, boundary between phenomenon (case) and its vicinity (context), and using multiple sources of evidence. Moreover, according to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), case study is a method for learning about a complex instance, based on a comprehensive understanding of that instance, obtained by extensive description and analysis of the instance, taken as a whole and in its context. Then we will find same keyword from this definition compared to Yin’s (1987) definition, those are learning or investigation, instance (case or phenomenon), and context. With these two definitions from different sources we clearly can take conclusion that we need a case to be studied or investigated and the case must be located in an environment which is covering it (context); therefore, the case is a bounded system (has boundary). In addition, the phenomenon or the case must be in a range of time or we call it as contemporary case.


At previous section we have defined the case study and limited the oil and gas sector. In this section, we will discuss why we use case study in oil and gas sector. There are cases, events, or phenomenon which happen in oil and gas sector, we then will measure can we use the case as an object to be studied or not. Incident and offshore project would be some examples of case that we will discuss in the following paragraphs.

During its operation, oil and gas industry involves many parties, they work on their own discipline or expertise. Working interface between them is a must condition. Oil and gas sector is classified as high risk industry, each of discipline has to perform well and safely during day-to-day activity. If one discipline or party make a mistake, it can be huge problem both for the mistake maker and the whole system. Then, we can name it as an incident.

Refer to location of oil and gas operation, we can classify that sector into 2 (two) groups, onshore and offshore operation. Onshore operation means that both drilling (exploration) and production of petroleum are commenced in land, such as near shore, desert, forest, high land, low land, arctic, antarctic, and other place as far as not in sea. In contrast, exploration and production (may be partial or whole production) of petroleum which are held at the ocean is known as offshore operation.

Offshore operation need much more efforts to be commenced than onshore operation, it needs huge amount both capital and operation expenditure. To be able to explore petroleum beneath the sea bed, we need infrastructure to support drilling rig and also can be used during operational activity while production period. Both fabrication and installation of fixed or floating infrastructures need big budgets, therefore, each offshore project should be arranged, conducted, and recorded well in order to minimize same mistake or failure in the next project.

Main purpose of case study is to investigate the case relation to its historical, economic, technological, social and cultural context. Those purposes are generally suitable to be implemented in two sample cases described in previous paragraph. To obtain lesson learnt from an incident, we have to know the system where the incident happens, how it happens, why it happens, how it can affect to other worker in psychological matter, and how big the financial loss after the incident due to loss time of operational activity. Similarly, offshore project also can be studied using case study since to arrange and perform the project we also have to manage our team to be expert in some areas of project. For example, history of reason why a project has to be performed, its economic value, technological matter involved on the project, and its effect to the environmental condition.

Case study is also conducted for particular purpose. An incident is studied to gain experiences from it so that prevention action can be commenced and the same or typical incident will not happen at the future. Lessons from an incident then is informed to whole part of company or it also can be passed to another typical company as lesson learnt. In the same way, case study of offshore project is done to evaluate past projects. The result of study would be guidance for next projects with main purpose is to find effective method during engineering, procurement, construction or fabrication and installation phases so that the budget is realized efficiently and length time of project can be reduced.


In their book, Mallette and Duke (2004) gave explanation about the type of case study stated previously by Stake (2008). Case study is classified into 3 (three) types, those are intrinsic, instrumental and collective case study. In first type, it is undertaken because one wants to understand the particular case (Ofori, 2009). The researcher is seeking better understanding of a case, that is, he or she is exploring the case because it is interesting, not because it might contribute to theory building. In the instrumental type, the case moves to the background of interest, for it is being used to understand something else. The last type is collective case study. Researcher investigates numerous cases to study a phenomenon, group, condition, or event. The redundancy of cases is purposeful as the researcher is building a stronger understanding and a more compelling argument for the significance of the work through the use of multiple cases.

Another writer who defined the type of case study are Jan Dul and Tony Hak. At their book, Dul and Hak (2008) classify case study into two types. The first type is single case study which means a case study in which data from one instance is enough to achieve the research objective. The other type of case study stated by Dul and Hak (2008) is comparative case study. In this type, one which requires data from two or more instances to achieve the research objective.

In oil and gas sector we are better to use collective case study if we refer to case study classified by Stake (2008). We also can implement comparative case study in that sector. These types of case study allow us to involve more than one case to be studied so that it represents several typical cases and quite enough for developing new criteria or requirement that can be used for next project or to prevent same incident.


As discussed in section I, context becomes one of important things that we have to defined while preparing case study in all sectors. There are several meanings of context that we can find from internet source. Context is defined as the set of facts or circumstances that surround a situation or event (taken from glossary of Princenton). The Department of Computer and Information Science of Linkopings Universitet gave definition of context, context is the setting in which an item of information appears. Again, we also can obtain the definition of context from Curtin University of Technology. It defines context as the situation including the creators, their purposes, activities and circumstances that caused events to occur and records documenting them to be created and maintained.

Then, based on several definitions of context presented above, we can identify what are our context to do case study in oil and gas sector. We can start from what case we have chosen to be studied. For example, incident, contexts of an incident can be location of incident, time of event occurred, worker on site when incident happened, type of work and so on. In the same way, if we decide to choose offshore projects as our case then its contexts would be company involved in those projects, time range of projects, location, infrastructure involved in the project, international and regional regulation, code and standard, and others.


The protocol is a major tactic in increasing the reliability of case study research and is intended to guide the investigator in carrying out the case study. A case study protocol is more than an instrument. The protocol contains the instrument but also contains the procedures and general rules that should be followed in using the instrument. Having a case study protocol is desirable under all circumstances, but it is essential if we are using multiple-case design (Yin, 1987).

The protocol should have the following sections:

· Overview of the case study project (project objectives and auspices, case study issues, and relevant readings about the topic being investigated). If we take an example of incident as our case that we will study, then the objectives are to provide lesson learnt for everyone who are working in same type of job, to provide prevention action to avoid same incident, to be material for safety briefing before commencement a same work. About relevant reading materials, it can be obtained in many sources, especially from internet and professional mailing list.

· Field procedures (credentials and access to the case study “sites”, general sources of information, and procedural reminder. Only authorized people who is allowed to access incident “sites” due to strict regulation which is implemented in all oil and gas projects or refineries. Source of information may be from injured person (if any), people who are working in vicinity of event and authorized people who has the responsibility of all things in that project.

· Case study question (the specific questions that the case study investigator must keep in mind in collecting data, “table shells” for specific arrays of data, and the potential sources of information for answering each question); and

· Guide for the case study report (outline, format for the narrative, and specification of any bibliographical information and other documentation).


Once we have defined all of things described in previous section, then the following sub-sections is a practical step we have to follow in order to prepare and conduct case study well (Ofori, 2009):

A. Preparation Phase

In this stage, we have to define the research topic which will answer the question of what is the study really about? Once we have decided about what case (about case selection would be presented in next section) to be studied or investigated, then we are able to define the research topic of our chosen case or cases. After that, general and specific research objectives have to be specified. For this matter, we have determined all of them in section V, with case example is incident which had happened in oil and gas project.

B. Research Phase

A research strategy is chosen in this stage, starting from hypothesis, then by considering research objective we finally decide a research strategy that we will use in our case study. The next step is instance or case selection. It can be done by listing up all candidate cases continue with selecting a or some cases. In early part of this paper we have used two cases in oil and gas sector as our cases. It is assumed that we have done the above steps previously. Subsequently, we have to do measurement on our selected case which will bring us to commencement of data analysis. This last step of this section will give as the result of analysis of data.

C. Implication and Report Phase

Once the survey or observation was conducted, the next step is to find out the implication of data analysis result and to move them into a written report. If case study is conducted by a group of people then they can discuss the result, test the result and obtain practical decision that can be done correspond with the result.


The final step of reporting case study would be conclusion. This conclusion is generated by author of report, can be single person or a group. If we refer to our previous cases, the conclusion may be the incident was triggered by human error or technical matter, the incident could be avoided if the injured person use his personal protection equipment properly or the machine was located to another safer location, and many other conclusions can be drawn from a case study.

In order to make sure that we have conducted a case study and made report well, we have to evaluate our previous step. The following criteria can be guidance to evaluate whether the case study is good or not (Stake, 1995):

· A good case study must be significant in one way or another;

· A case can be unusual, unique, or of general interest;

· The issue studied should be interesting and relevant, either theoretically or practically;

· The case study must be complete – researcher should have given explicit attention to define the case and its context, all relevant evidence has been investigated (including contradictory ones);

· A good case study considers alternative perspective, which involves examination of evidence from different perspective;

· A case study must be composed in an engaging manner, to keep the reader interested in reading to the end.


Actually, discussion on this paper bring us to the conclusion that case study (especially collective and comparative case study) is definitely suitable to be conducted in oil and gas sector. With its problem complexity, harsh environment and strict regulation, both case and context in oil and gas industry can be studied comprehensively. Case study is able to present and solution or theory to avoid same problems may happen at the future.

This paper then can be guidance for all people or parties who will perform case study in oil and gas industry. This framework can be assistance in order to perform case study easily. People can follow the section, stage and step-by-step explanation on this paper so that he or she would not find any difficulties.

For next study, each of section need to be explained more detail, give various example of case may be a good tools to bring the reader follow this guide easily. Not only from offshore operation, but also sample can be taken from onshore operation since cases on that area will also have high variety. Down stream industry at oil and gas sector also has many phenomenon or case that could be appropriate to be studied.


Ofori, George. Case Studies: Nature, Definition, Formulation. Leture Notes in Project Management Case Studies. Singapore: National University of Singapore, 2009, p. 3.

Yin, Robert K. Case Study Research – Design and Methods, 6th ed. United States of America: SAGE Publications, Inc, 1987, vol. 5, p. 10, 23.

Hatakenaka et al. “The Regional Dynamics of Innovation: A Comparative Case Study of Oil and Gas Industry Development in Stavanger and Aberdeen,” Industrial Performance Center – Massasuchetts Institute of Technology, pp. 3, Nov. 2006.

Mallette, Marla H and Duke, Nell K. Literacy Research Methodologies. New York, United States of America: Guilford Press, 2004, p. 9-10.

Dul, J and Hak, T. Case Study Methodology in Business Research. Amsterdam, Netherland: Elsevier, 2008, p. 4.

Stake, R.E. Qualitative Case Studies. In Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds) Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry. Sage, Los Angeles, 2008, pp. 119-149.

Princenton. 2009. Definition of Context. Retrieved February 01, 2009, from

The Department of Computer and Information Science of Linkopings Universitet. 2009. Definition of Context. Retrieved February 01, 2009, from

Curtin University of Technology. 2009. Archives & recordkeeping glossary. Retrieved February 01, 2009, from


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