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The Scotsman: Two gas escapes in a fortnight hit rig where two oil workers died

(Published 13 June 2006)

SHAN ROSS

A NORTH Sea oil platform where two workers died after being overcome in a massive gas leak has had two gas escapes in the past fortnight, it emerged last night.

The Health and Safety Executive is investigating the leaks on Shell’s Brent Bravo platform, 116 miles north-east of Lerwick.

Keith Moncrieff and Sean McCue died on the installation in September 2003 after being sent to inspect a pipe repair in the platform’s utility leg where there was a massive cloud of hydrocarbon gas leaking from a broken valve.

The oil workers’ union last night expressed anger at the news of the latest gas leaks and warned lack of investment in ageing infrastructure could lead to further tragedies.

Last night a Shell spokeswoman said a “low level” of gas had been detected under an aero-engine on 1 June.

She added that this was caused by a “misaligned fitting” which was immediately corrected. On 5 June the platform was temporarily shut down after a door seal failed on a surface module, releasing a small amount of gas and between 20 and 60 litres of crude oil.

“All our safety systems worked as planned and safety is our first priority,” added the spokeswoman.

“In the second instance the platform was shut down because we do not operate if there is any threat to safety.”

Jake Molloy, the general secretary of OILC, the oil workers’ union, claimed last night there could be more gas leaks in the future because oil companies did not want to invest in ageing infrastructure.

“I am extremely angry and disappointed about these two gas leaks. Gas leaks are a major hazard for anyone working offshore because there is tremendous potential for escalation.

“Brent Bravo is having a series of problems, mostly associated with age. It was commissioned in the late 1970s and has run beyond its design age. Lack of investment means it is now suffering the consequences.

“Unfortunately, we are likely to see more instances like this because Shell, along with other companies such as BP, regard oil fields in the North Sea as mature assets which are just about drained and they see little point in investing in them. They are primarily interested in new areas such as Africa, the Caspian area and South Africa.”

Mr Molloy said there were around 200 workers on Brent Bravo when the latest gas leaks occurred. The total included a number of extra workers accommodated in a “flotel”, or floating hotel, who were drafted in to deal with a number of safety recommendations as a result of the two deaths in 2003.

Mr Moncrieff, 45, of Invergowrie, near Dundee, was employed by the Wood Group, an oil service company, as a mechanical technician. Mr McCue, 22, of Kennoway, Fife, was employed by Shell as a trainee operations technician.

Last month Jacqueline Ogilvie, Mr Moncrieff’s partner, began legal action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh for compensation against both Shell and his employers the Wood Group for £800,000.

Mrs Ogilvie, a mother of three, had been due to marry Mr Moncrieff. She gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Jenna, only hours after his death.

The action accuses both Shell and the Wood Group of a number of alleged breaches of offshore safety regulations and “negligent actings” which resulted in financial losses for Mrs Ogilvie and her family.

In 2005, Shell was fined a record £900,000 after admitting three health and safety breaches, including failing to carry out a risk assessment on the platform.

A fatal accident inquiry at Aberdeen Sheriff Court into the deaths of the two men ended earlier this year.

Sheriff Colin Harris, who presided over the inquiry, is expected to publish his judgment in the next few weeks.

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