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Reuters: UK probes corrosion complaint at Shell oil rig

Tue Aug 8, 2006 1:24 PM ET

By Simon Webb

LONDON, Aug 8 (Reuters) – Britain is investigating allegations Royal Dutch Shell was slow to act on a report detailing corrosion at a North Sea platform, the health and safety watchdog said on Tuesday.

Shell was not able to make immediate comment.

A spokesman for the British government’s Health and Safety Executive told Reuters the inquiry involved Shell’s Brent Bravo platform, which has been operating since the mid 1970s.

“We started the investigation last week,” said Ian Whewell, head of the offshore Health and Safety Executive.

“Normally these things take two to three weeks. The investigation is into an allegation that an inspection report made in February was not acted upon.”

The world’s ageing oil infrastructure has been in the spotlight this week after BP announced it was shutting its Alaskan Prudhoe Bay oilfield due to pipeline corrosion, with the loss of 400,000 barrels per day of output.

The news sent oil to a new record high.

Oil union the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee filed the complaint against Shell. It alleged Shell allowed workers to use a stairwell inside one of the legs of the Brent Bravo platform for months after a report detailed serious corrosion. Shell commissioned the inspection report, the OILC said.

“Shell continued to allow workers to use what in effect was a dangerous access/exit system,” said OILC General Secretary Jake Molloy.

“I am quite appalled that Shell were prepared to ignore comment in that report. It speaks volumes about what is going on in this industry on mature assets, as companies will do anything they can to suck as much oil out of the fields rather than do the work that could prevent injury or environmental damage.”

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued Shell with an improvement notice after its inspectors found serious corrosion on the stairwell a few weeks ago, Whewell said. When the inspectors visited the platform, the stairwell had been closed.

Improvement notices are issued when HSE inspectors find what they believe is a breach of UK health and safety law.

As producers in the North Sea look to maximise oil production from ageing and declining oil and gas fields in the North Sea, maintenance needs are rising, Whewell said.

“I think the North Sea does face a considerable challenge,” Whewell said. “Much of the infrastructure is quite old and coming to the end of its design life, and there are issues involved in extending it.”

To date this year, the HSE has issued 13 improvement notices to the offshore oil and gas industry. Last year it issued 37 notices.

Two workers died on the Brent Bravo platform after a gas leak in September 2003. 
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