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Saturday 17 Sept 2011: Explosion warning over Shell platform

The Press and Journal

Explosion warning over Shell platform

Saturday, September 17 2011

Front page lead story running on to page 2.

BY RYAN CRIGHTON

UNDER-PRESSURE oil giant Shell has been issued with an official safety warning over explosion risks at one of its ageing North Sea platforms.

The Health and Safety Executive is raising fears once again about the 35- year-old Brent Charlie platform, which has recorded 61 oil and gas leaks in a decade.

It emerged last night that the company has been served with an improvement notice over its failure to take action to identify “events” that could lead to a major accident, fire or explosion following a gas release.

Shell has been given until the end of the month to tackle the issues – which relate to one of the platform legs – or face further sanctions from the government body.

The company is already facing prosecution over the Gannet Alpha oil spill which spewed more than 200 tonnes of light crude into the North Sea last month.

A union boss said yesterday the company had “serious problems” at Brent Charlie that needed to be resolved before production resumed early next year.

All four platforms in the Brent field, 116 miles north-east of Shetland were shut down in January after a protective fender – thought to weigh about 25 tonnes – fell from the Brent Bravo installation.

Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo resumed production in the summer. Brent Delta is expected to follow soon, and Brent Charlie early next year.

However, the HSE issued a prohibition notice in July halting production on Brent Charlie, despite the fact it has been producing only enough hydrocarbon to power itself.

As a result,power-generating equipment has been sent to the platform, which still has 72 people on board.

Jake Molloy, of the RMT union in Aberdeen said: “The Charlie has only been producing sufficient gas to power the platform, but it still had another hydrocarbon release during the most minimal production – so there are serious problems which need resolved.”

Shell ‘has invested over £600m on North Sea upgrades’

WWF Scotland head of policy Dan Barlow said: “With yet another warning from the Health and Safety Executive, it seems that Shell is once again struggling to operate safely in the North Sea.

“Such notices give cause for concern about whether this company, with its ageing equipment, exposes us to a repeat of the recent Gannet Alpha oil spill.”

However, Shell hit back last night, saying it had invested  more than £600 million in recent years to    upgrade its North Sea facilities.

“Our overall performance has been improving,” a spokesman said.

“However, we are not satisfied with the number of hydrocarbon releases from our operations in 2009 and 2010, and we are committed to improve on our performance in this area.

“We have supported a recent proposal by Step Change in Safety – ‘which is a UK industry, HSE and trade union forum – to set an industry target, agreed in 2010, of halving hydrocarbon releases by 2013.

“We look to the great teams both offshore and onshore to achieve this important ambition.”

The company did not wish to put any of its bosses forward for interview yesterday.

Talisman has also been issued with a prohibition notice in recent weeks following four significant hydrocarbon releases from its Claymore platform. Work was halted on the platform – 100 miles north-east of Aberdeen – on August 16. However, no oil entered the sea.

Talisman UK senior vice-president Geoff Holmes said: “Any hydrocarbon release is unacceptable and our performance has clearly not met our own standards or those demanded by the HSE.

“Talisman is fully committed to the cross-industry initiative to reduce unintentional releases by 50% by 2013.

“We will continue to work as a company, with other operators and with the regulator, to improve our performance in this key area.

Mr Molloy said “I think the events of the summer should be a wake-up can to the entire industry.

“This is not just Shell’s problem.

“These issues with the integrity of ageing infrastructure are also prevalent among other operators, as can been seen at the Claymore.

”They must be at the top of their game when it comes to managing and maintaining the ageing plant around them.

“Given the industry aim to cut hydrocarbon releases by 50% by 2012, they face an uphill battle.”

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