Offshore Industry Has Come 'Perilously Close to Disaster,' Warns UK's Health and Safety Executive

Credit: Total E&P UK.
In 2012, the Elgin platform continued leaking hydrocarbons for more than 50 days.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned the UK’s offshore oil and gas operators that they must do more to tackle hydrocarbon releases in the North Sea after coming “perilously close to disaster” in recent years.

The warning comes as the industry approaches the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. On 6 July 1988, a hydrocarbon release on the platform ignited, killing 167 men. The number and severity of hydrocarbon releases have been a key measure of safety performance ever since, but the HSE says that, despite recent strides to prevent releases, there are still too many occurring.

Potential for Loss of Life

Fig. 1—While releases have fallen,
Flint urges industry to improve
performance (adapted from
data published by the HSE).

Chris Flint, HSE’s director of energy division, said, “Every HCR (hydrocarbon release) is a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks. I recognise the steps the industry has taken to reduce the overall number of HCRs, however HCRs remain a concern, particularly major HCRs because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions, and multiple losses of life. There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster.”

HSE data on releases shows that releases have dropped from 186 in 2010 to 101 in 2016, though that does represent a steady rise from a low of 81 releases in 2014 (Fig. 1).

In a letter sent to all offshore oil and gas production operators in the North Sea, Flint identifies a number of failings that led to releases, and gives industry until 20 July to explain what measures it is taking to improve performance.

Read the full story here.



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