From The Times
By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor
June 23, 2006
NORTH SEA oil and gas unions are calling for a government investigation into Shell’s North Sea safety record after revelations that an internal audit found widespread violations of safety procedures and the alleged falsification of compliance documents.
The unions, including OILC and Amicus, want the Department of Trade and Industry to examine Shell’s licence to operate in the light of allegations made by Bill Campbell, a former senior Shell engineer, that Shell allowed the pursuit of greater oil and gas production to compromise safety.
Mr Campbell, who led a Platform Safety Maintenance Review (PSMR) of Shell’s North Sea facilities in 1999, said that managers at the vast Brent complex were instructed not to take any action that might cause an unplanned shutdown of production.
The policy was given the acronym TFA, meaning “Touch F*** All” and emerged at a time when North Sea oil companies were under intense financial pressure to raise their cashflow because of a sharp fall in the price of oil.
Details of the PSMR findings and Mr Campbell’s allegations, which were published in Upstream, an oil industry journal, emerge at a critical moment for Shell and the offshore industry. The findings of a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the deaths of two workers at Brent Bravo in a gas escape in September 2003 are expected within weeks.
The PSMR report, details of which have been seen by The Times, indicates that the auditors found extensive violations including long deferrals of the testing of key safety equipment, including emergency shut-down systems, and the alleged falsification of maintenance records for safety equipment.
Shell’s response to the PSMR was inadequate, Mr Campbell said, pointing to a Shell internal safety audit after the accident at Brent in 2003 which found hundreds of procedure and maintenance violations and evidence that staff were afraid to flag up safety problems.
Shell rejects Mr Campbell’s allegation, in particular that it would do anything to compromise offshore safety. Shell said yesterday that a subsequent investigation failed to find definitive evidence of falsification. It said it responded in detail to the PSMR finding, setting up a team to confirm the integrity of offshore installations.
The publication of the PSMR report and Mr Campbell’s allegations about extensive safety violations will bring new pressure on Shell’s management, including Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s head of exploration who ran the UK North Sea business in 1999. Shell has been seeking to restore a reputation damaged by scandal and poor performance, notably the revelation in 2004 that it had misreported its oil reserves and an internal investigation that revealed a culture of bullying and lying.
The PSMR report suggests that unacceptable behaviour had trickled down to middle management in the North Sea: “Key business drivers and messages from corporate level are fostering undesirable behaviour in some parts of the organisation.”
Related Article: ShellNews.net: A climate of fear among Shell employees