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Upstreamonline: Brinded shoots the messenger

Audit chief removed from review post after raising questions over management direction

By Upstream staff

SHELL failed to act on Bill Campbell’s central recommendation that its top three Brent managers should immediately be suspended from duty following his audit team’s devastating internal investigation revealing the negative safety culture across the field. Instead, UK chief Malcolm Brinded removed Campbell from his position as the lead role in the audit review team.

The conclusions of the hard-hitting Platform Safety Management Review (PSMR), seen by Upstream, will have made very uncomfortable reading for Brinded, then oil director Chris Finlayson and gas director Tom Botts, the three senior directors in charge of Shell Expro in late-1999.

The audit effectively confirmed workforce suspicions that safety was being compromised in the interests of production.

Campbell was aware his audit team colleagues were unlikely to recommend the suspension of Shell Expro managers that they were working with as it would have put their own careers in jeopardy. However, as head of the audit team representing parent company Shell International in The Hague, Campbell had no such inhibitions.

At a meeting to present the team’s findings to Expro managers and directors on 22 October 1999, Campbell suggested, due to the gravity of its findings, including possible criminal conduct in alleged falsification of statutory maintenance records for ESD valves, that Northern Business Unit general manager Jorn Berget, Brent asset manager David Bayliss and his deputy Graham Birnie be immediately suspended from duty pending an inquiry.

“All the safety shortcuts being taken were largely due to the pressure being put on Bayliss and Birnie not to stop production. It was the extraordinary stress placed on Bayliss which caused all the problems as he knew if Shell didn’t meet its gas output targets it would lose money it was as simple as that,” Campbell claims.

The audit team recommended Expro directors should consider several actions, including immediately stopping Brent Bravo production, until such time as the “probably intolerable” risks of continual operations could be assessed and remedial action taken. It also highlighted unacceptable weaknesses and deficiency across the rest of the Brent field.

Among many PSMR conclusions on Brent it found a lack of controls in the inhibitions and overriding of safeguarding systems; a failure of the independent external and Shell internal verification process; a failure to ensure only competent staff who are assessed as such perform safety-critical roles; a failure to inform the workforce on Bravo of the intolerable risks and its causes; and a failure to notify the UK Health&Safety Executive (HSE) of the true circumstances surrounding maintenance on the field.

The PSMR concluded that safety claims being made at the time by the Aberdeen-based union the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, which had appeared in the press, were entirely factual. “In fact, the situation was much worse. This will be a huge reputation issue if these findings leak on to the streets,” warned the PSMR review.

The audit team found workforce consultation on Brent was not consistently applied and did not always seem to be in line with current legislation. On some installations visited, the safety representatives said they did not feel they had any influence at all over decisions.

When interviewed by the audit team, some individuals in Shell Expro indicated they were having to deal with very high levels of stress. Throughout the organisation many people up to management level were aware of the issues on the Brent field and were concerned, but still remained passive.

Finalyson, who as oil director chaired the 22 October meeting, heard the PSMR presentation, made only a few comments but no firm commitment to take any action. An impasse had been reached between the two sides and Brent Bravo operations were allowed to carry on as if nothing had happened, it is claimed.

Campbell was “extremely disappointed” that NBU general manager Jorn Berget, Brent asset manager Bayliss, and his deputy Birnie did not show up for the meeting. Finlayson declined a suggestion from Campbell that the meeting be postponed as the three top Brent managers were all missing and most of the PSMR findings related to the field. Instead, Brent was represented by offshore installation manager Chris Blaydon.

Otherwise, other members of the so-called Expro leadership team did attend the PSMR presentation, among others Botts and his general manager of southern operations Roger Colmer, central field manager Marc Carne, the financial director, the HSE manager, and the technical services manager.

Campbell comments that Botts, who now heads up Shell’s European business, was made aware of the PSMR findings related to Brent “but seemed to appreciate my remarks that the gas business was not found to be a problem area”.

Brinded had not been expected to attend the PSMR meeting, so the team had arranged a meeting with him the week after. However, before this could happen, without explanation, Campbell was dismissed by Brinded from his role as lead auditor. No reason was ever given by Shell Expro or by Brinded for the decision to remove the independent Shell International auditor.

Later, the PSMR team, now led by Campbell’s deputy Ken Merry, held a meeting with Brinded. Merry is alleged to have pointed the finger at Brinded telling him it was the audit team’s opinion that it was his key business drivers and the messages they were fostering that were creating the undesirable safety behaviour within the company.

Brinded was allegedly told it was his gas nomination contract, his style of management, his enhanced Expro model and his decisions that had created the autonomous, self-regulating and aggressive band of managers at Shell Expro’s Seafield House offices in Aberdeen.

Members of the team recall how “Brinded went ballistic”, threatening Merry for daring to speak out against him in such a manner and ordering him out of the room.

Shell tells Upstream in a statement that during the PSMR, Campbell’s relationship with many parties had deteriorated. “For this reason it was felt that he should not lead the final discussions with management,” it says.

The group adds that the terms of reference for the PSMR did not extend to recommendations for changes to management. “Campbell’s recommendations to remove individuals were not supported by other members of the PSMR team,” claims Shell.

Campbell accuses Brinded, Finlayson and other Shell Expro directors of ignoring red danger signals.

“I believe probably some 98% of Shell employees believe in the company’s corporate and ethical values contained in its ‘Statement of General Business Principles’ and want to operate that way. Then why was it that Brinded didn’t seem to really care?” asks Campbell.

After his removal from the audit team, Campbell returned to The Hague and tried to raise his concerns through Shell International Exploration & Production (SIEP) to the regional director with responsibility for the UK, and through SIEP’s HSE manager to the then director of SIEP.

He believes Shell management did little to try and deal with those directly responsible for the safety problems, or to lower the overall safety risks on the Brent field in the years between his 1999 PSMR findings and the deaths of two men on Brent Bravo on 11 September 2003.

Finlayson left Expro in September 2000 and was subsequently promoted to become Shell’s country chairman in Nigeria, until last year when he became president of Shell Russia.

Berget was promoted in January 2001, according to Campbell with Brinded’s support, to become regional production director for Shell Oil responsible for North and South America, in addition to being a board member of Enventure Technologies&Enterprise Products GP.

In November 2004, Berget left Shell after being appointed executive vice president for BG Advance, part of the BG Group.

Bayliss was known to have kept his Brent field job for a period after the PSMR audit team produced its findings. Investigations by Upstream have discovered he is still employed by Shell Expro as an operations manager for its northern installations in the Central North Sea, based at the company’s Tullos offices in Aberdeen.

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