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Upstreamonline: Questions over ‘corrupt and deeply flawed independent verification process’

Goal-widening rather than goal-setting 

Questions over ‘corrupt and deeply flawed independent verification process’ but directors not seen as at fault by company if wrongdoing occurred

By Upstream staff

ABERDEEN-based Wood Group, the main Brent field contractor, also took stinging criticism from former Shell International group auditor Bill Campbell.

Wood Group managers onshore told the Platform Safety Management Review (PSMR) audit team they knew full well that Brent field maintenance reports had been falsified and they accepted the situation.

The contractor is accused in the PSMR of colluding with Brent asset manager David Bayliss “in inappropriate and unauthorised planned maintenance deferral”, including putting 98 overrides on the Brent Delta fire and gas detection system and 29 such overrides on Brent Bravo.

“Many of these overrides were not even authorised,” claims Campbell.

Campbell claims Bayliss built a reputation internally for “goal-widening rather than goal-setting on safety”, exposing about 700 Brent field workers under his charge to excessive risks over a long period.

Campbell says he discovered “a corrupt and deeply flawed independent verification process that simply allowed performance criteria to be widened”.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, according to Campbell, it was established during the investigation that when Brent emergency shutdown (ESD) valves failed their leak-off tests, deputy asset manager Graham Birnie had on several occasions arranged for the test records to show “test acceptable, no fault found”.

On each occasion, when an ESD valve failed a test, the installations were started up with no attempt at any risk assessment. Evidence gathered in the audit indicates that when some weeks later these risk assessments were eventually produced they indicated that the operating risks were not acceptable.

The fitting of ESD valves to all of the UK’s offshore oil and gas platforms was one of the early moves following Occidental’s Piper Alpha disaster in July 1988 when 167 workers were killed. The industry standard for ESD leak-off rates for these valves when installed, adopted by Shell, was no more than 1 cubic metre per minute.

Campbell alleges Bayliss amended this standard to “if greater than 20 cubic metres per minute replace at the next shutdown”.

The rest of Shell Expro, the Central and Southern field units all at the time maintained the original Expro standard.

According to Campbell, on 15 October 1999 Birnie, also under interview, quite casually agreed that he had “doctored ESD maintenance records” and even pulled into the interview a Wood Group process engineer in an attempt to justify the continued operation of an oil separator in violation of Expro codes of practice.

Wood Group, approached by Upstream with eight detailed questions regarding the Campbell allegations over its role as the main Brent field contractor, says it is awaiting the imminent Fatal Accident Inquiry determination and therefore does not feel it appropriate to comment.

Shell tells Upstream it is simply not true that Shell Expro senior management in the 1990s allowed goal-widening on safety, while the Brent assets were being “sweated” for long periods in order to meet heavy production demands.

Shell believes its audit investigation team fully examined Campbell’s allegations of goal-widening last year but were unable to find any definitive evidence to support such allegations. Also the company does not believe there was a deliberate falsification of records.

“Changes to safety criteria were carried out through due process as part of our quantitative risk assessment in consultation with the relevant Shell technical authority,” says the group.

Lord Cullen’s report found it was the lack of ESD valves on main pipelines that had ultimately caused the destruction of the Piper Alpha platform.

An early recommendation was that such valves should be immediately installed on all offshore production installations a move made by the industry in the early 1990s, spending billions on installing such valves across the UK North Sea.

Campbell’s disclosures also show that data on ESD valves on a gas riser line and an oil riser line, both on Brent Delta, had failed to operate in accordance with performance standards set out in the Safety Case between 1999 to 2003.

Under interview by the audit team, Gordon Muir, then the Brent engineering manager, admitted he was “terrified by what Bayliss and Birnie were getting up to”.

Campbell says when he was made aware of the changes Bayliss was getting Wood Group to do for him, Muir said he had no knowledge, even though he was the only recognised authority for any engineering change on Brent.

Bayliss was interviewed by Campbell and other audit team members Ken Merry and Keith Mutimer in his office in Shell Expro’s Seafield House in Aberdeen. Campbell, who describes Bayliss as “a complex character”, says the team went through a litany of concerns.

At the end of a long interview, Bayliss, according to Campbell, shook his head in the affirmative and acknowledged it was “a fair cop”, admitting he just tried everything so he did not have to shut down the Brent field.

During the interview, he blamed Brinded for putting him under intolerable pressure, according to Campbell.

“Running Brent was just like flying an aircraft with one engine. You knew the consequences if the second engine failed but you just accepted it. The whole safety ethos was built on a basis of sand,” Campbell concludes.

 

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