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Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com: Call for inquiry into oil rig safety regulator

Terry Macalister
Friday June 30, 2006
From The Guardian

Members of the Scottish parliament are calling for an inquiry into North Sea safety regulators, alleging they have failed to properly monitor the operations of Shell.

The move comes ahead of a report being published by Aberdeen’s sheriff court into an accident on Shell’s Brent Bravo platform in 2003 when two men died.

It follows revelations in this newspaper that a senior Shell consultant, Bill Campbell, told the oil company as far back as 1999 that employees had been falsifying maintenance documents relating to North Sea platforms. Shell rejects the allegations of tampering with paperwork.

Mr Campbell also told the Guardian that operations were still potentially unsafe and he feared another disaster. Shell said his claims could not be substantiated.

Frances Curran and fellow Scots Socialist MSPs have called on the executive to “examine the role of the Health & Safety Executive [HSE] in this matter and consider why it apparently failed to act”. The MSPs claim “considerations of profit were allowed to supersede those of safety, not just on one-off occasions but continually and that the concerns of workers, expressed to the Oil Industry Liaison Committee, were ignored by both the industry and the UK government.”

The HSE dismissed the allegations. “We served eight improvement notices on Shell between 2000 and 2002,” said a spokesman. Shell says critics such as Mr Campbell had not paid credit to the huge strides made in improving safety and in particular, reducing the number of temporary and unauthorised repairs.

A report written after the Brent Bravo accident, at the behest of the HSE, uncovered a backlog of 472 temporary repairs of which 214 were “unapproved”. Shell said the “unapproved” repairs were in the middle of gaining authorisation and the HSE says they were indeed “not recorded by Shell” but were not necessarily unsafe nor outside HSE rules.

A new internal document from the HSE, obtained by this newspaper, does appear to contradict Shell’s claim that safety had been improving in the North Sea, since 1999 and certainly after 2003.

An email obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and dated May 31 2005 from Ray Paterson, an offshore divisional inspector for the HSE in Aberdeen, to a team leader, Tom McLaren, says: “I would like to raise the issue of significant high levels and apparent increase (certainly not reduction) of maintenance backlog (out of compliance) on most Mature Assets (North ) Installations.” The Mature Assets are a reference to the Brent, Eider, Tern and Dunlin platforms run by Shell.

Mr Campbell, who worked for Shell for 24 years, told the Guardian last week he had brought his concerns to the attention of directors as far back as 1999 and again in 2004. “I am sorry to have to go public on this but if the current safety regime demonstrated by the Brent Bravo [fatal accidents] case study has failed and if improvements are not undertaken another major accident is inevitable,” he said.

Shell defended the North Sea safety regime last night. “We have an effective regulator in the HSE in that it is professional and carries out a high level of inspections and safety case reviews.”

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