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Storm over major leaks on offshore platforms

The Press & Journal (Aberdeen)


Storm over major leaks on offshore platforms

Published: 14/08/2008

The North Sea energy industry was under fire last night for failing to cut the number of oil and gas leaks – despite the potential to spark another Piper Alpha-style disaster.

The leaks accounted for 40% of a total of 517 “dangerous incidents” in the space of 12 months highlighted in a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

And union leaders and politicians have called for more to be done to ensure there is never a repeat of what happened on the Piper Alpha platform two decades ago.

HSE chairwoman Judith Hackitt said the control of major incident risks “seems to have taken a back seat”.

And Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the OILC/RMT union, said it was difficult to see where the £1billion the industry claims it invested in safety has been spent.

Ms Hackitt said: “Twenty years on from Piper Alpha, we must learn key lessons to ensure that failures of basic systems do not lead to major incidents.”

Mr Molloy said: “There have been improvements since Piper Alpha, but if we don’t continue to improve and get these figures down there is an increasing risk of a major incident.”

Piper Alpha had a massive leak of gas condensate in July 1988, which led to explosions and a fireball. Only 61 people survived, while 167 died.

The HSE revealed that 517 dangerous incidents were reported during 2007-08, a rise of 32 on the previous year.

That included 74 major and significant hydrocarbon releases, the same as 2006-07, and one more than 2005-06.

The report sounds alarm bells following two fires aboard rigs towards the end of last year in the wake of the HSE’s major KP3 Report criticising North Sea operators’ poor safety levels and the maintenance of equipment.

Chris Allen, health and safety director of industry body Oil and Gas UK, admitted there had been no fall in the number of major and significant hydrocarbon releases, but said the majority of major installations had no incidents of this kind.

The number of major releases since 1994 had been reduced by 75% and the number of significant releases by 50%, said Mr Allen.

He said: “In striving to further reduce its hydrocarbon releases, the industry will be seeking close engagement with technical staff at HSE to further analyse the releases that have occurred and identify where action should be targeted.”

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MP Sir Robert Smith said: “The most disturbing aspect of the report is the failure to reduce the number of releases of hydrocarbons which have the potential to turn into a major disaster, and the industry needs to redouble its efforts to tackle them.”

Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran said: “This is a very damaging report, underlining the importance for the industry of addressing the very real problems.

“Safety is more important than production.”

SNP energy spokesman Mike Weir, MP for Angus, said: “The concerns raised by the HSE are clearly serious, and we must now see a substantial and speedy response from the industry. There can be no room for complacency or compromise on issues which essentially come down to life and death.”

Ms Hackitt said: “We continue to be concerned at the failure to reduce the number of hydrocarbon releases, together with an increase in the number of major injuries.

“This suggests basic safety systems are not being followed.”

She added: “With the demand for oil and gas so high and with assets being worked beyond their original intended lifespan, it is more important than ever that the offshore industry continues to invest to protect its workers and put safety first.”

HSE offshore division chief Ian Whewell said: “The industry cannot afford to be complacent and faces a difficult task if it intends to achieve its current aim of being the safest offshore sector in the world by 2010, and will need to make significant improvements in hazardous incident performance.”

The figures revealed a reduction in the number of minor injuries but an increase in the number of major injuries from 39 to 44.

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Offshore safety procedures

Published: 14/08/2008

WITH the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster still fresh in many minds, it seems extraordinary that the North Sea energy industry now stands accused of complacency over safety by the Health and Safety Executive. It was not that long ago that the HSE used a major industry conference in Aberdeen to tell some unpalatable home truths about safety offshore.

It has now followed that up with another damning report and pledged an ongoing review of safety procedures and strategies. It is ironic that an industry which has prided itself as being at the cutting edge of innovation and excellence finds itself accused of being incapable of following basic safety systems.

It is an issue which has dogged the industry for some time now, but it appears to be at a loss as to how to solve it. The expertise and experience is there for inroads to be made in reducing the problem significantly.

Some wonder if corners have been cut as yields from the North Sea have fallen in its mature phase. As we know from tragedies elsewhere, you cannot cut corners on safety. Given the repeated warnings from the HSE, if any major incidents now occur involving death or injury caused by basic safety breaches, these would be unforgivable.

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