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Daily Telegraph: HSE sounds alarm over rigs

By Russell Hotten, Industry Editor
Last Updated: 1:29am GMT 22/11/2007

A three-year investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has condemned the condition of oil and gas platforms in the North Sea and warned energy companies that they are running the risk of a major accident because of years of under-investment.

The HSE, which looked at nearly 100 offshore installations in the British sector of the North Sea, criticised senior managers for not giving sufficient priority to maintenance and put operators on notice that it will “name and shame” companies unless they improve their facilities.

Trade unions in the oil industry have long warned about the North Sea’s old and decaying platforms and hailed publication of yesterday’s report as a vindication of their campaign.

“Some of these platforms are an accident waiting to happen,” said Graham Tran, an Aberdeen-based official at Unite, Britain’s biggest union.

The HSE found that the life of much of the infrastructure had been extended well beyond what had been envisaged when it was built. More than half of the offshore assets – including fixed, manned and unattended platforms, floating production, storage and offloading vessels and mobile drilling rigs – were in a poor condition.

In a stark warning, the HSE said: “There can be no mistaking our message to those in the boardrooms of the oil and gas offshore companies: there is still much more to do and those in a position of leadership must ensure that systems, procedures and best practice is adopted to achieve the goal of the UK continental shelf becoming the safest offshore sector by 2010.”

Many of the world’s major energy companies operate in the North Sea, including Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP.

The HSE said there “were wide variations in performance across the sector and within companies”.

But Judith Hackitt, chairman of the HSE, said the reason for not naming companies was because each one had a role to play in improving facilities.

She said: “We have not ruled out naming and shaming in the future. But we did not do it in the report because we did not want to let anyone off the hook by thinking that they were better than others. We are warning that the potential exists for a major accident. There is a need for better learning and sharing between companies.”

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, which represents offshore operators, said the report would help “sharpen our industry’s focus” but denied any neglect. “No one in this industry is in any doubt about the importance of asset integrity, which is the key not only to the safety of our installations but also to the longer term sustainability of the industry.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2007/11/22/cnnthsea122.xml

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