Government safety inspectors have blasted oil companies for failing to deal with serious corrosion on North Sea rigs that could put lives in danger and lead to a disaster.
On one rig corroded pipes led to a “significant quantity” of gas leaking and it was “fortunate” there was no explosion.The revelations are in reports from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which launched an inspection program last year over concerns about oil platforms and pipelines which are being used beyond their expected lifespan.
The documents obtained through Freedom of Information by an oilworkers’ union reveal the HSE has issued improvement notices to rig operators after its inspectors found evidence of corrosion that could have resulted in severe damage in at least three installations, two off the Scottish coastline.
Industry representatives said the inspection programme had shown that most rigs had effective anti-corrosion programmes in place.
But the Scottish National Party’s Westminster energy spokesman said the latest reports strengthened the argument for the Scottish Parliament to be given new powers to regulate the offshore industry. The documents have emerged following the leakage of more than 200 tonnes of oil from a pipeline from Shell’s Gannet Alpha, 112 miles offshore from Aberdeen.
The most serious incident revealed by the FoI requests happened in October last year on the Brae Alpha rig, operated by the oil company Marathon around 100 miles north-east of Aberdeen.
According to an official Improvement Notice issued by the HSE, a gas leak on the installation, which has around 100 staff, was only discovered after a worker smelled gas.The subsequent investigation by HSE staff found that “the incident featured an uncontrolled leak of flammable hydrocarbon gas in significant quantity from a pipe near the east side” of the platform. The incident had the potential to cause fire and explosion.”
The HSE pinpointed the source as combined and progressive internal and external corrosion affecting the pipe work. It added: “The issues underlying this show that you have failed adequately to detect the extent and severity of the corrosion.”
It also pointed out no gas detection coverage was available in the area of escape.
The HSE ordered Marathon to review its systems for inspecting for corrosion by March this year.
Another serious example of corrosion involved the Balmoral Platform, operated by Premier Oil, 135 miles north- east of Aberdeen.
Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the RMT union offshore energy branch, said oil companies were showing: “a blatant disregard for workers health and safety.”
Of the Brae Alpha incident, he said: “We find it astonishing that this significant gas leak was only discovered by a worker actually smelling the gas. Well done to the worker and thank God he wasn’t suffering from a cold. But think about it – no gas detection system.