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From a Shell North Sea Platform Insider: words of encouragement and support for Bill Campbell’s HSE Campaign

Bill Campbell, former Shell Group Auditor

BBC News photograph of Bill Campbell, retired Group Auditor of Shell International.

Monday 26 November 2007

So now we have more examples of how safety standards have deteriorated in the North Sea this time not Shell.  So why did the Thistle platform have a fire of such ferocity that required a full scale emergency and the entire platform evacuation?

The media coverage indicates that all the emergency procedures were implemented perfectly, so says the contract operator Petrofrac on behalf of Lundin petroleum.  Why did the emergency happen in the first place?  The power generation module had a fire we are told.  Turbine power plant is installed in its own enclosure and provided with fully independent fire detection and extinguishing system.  Fire in a turbine enclosure can be caused by, lubricating oil leaks, fuel leaks, or an accumulation of combustible materials within the turbine enclosure.  Should a fire start for whatever reason then it should have been detected and extinguished by the fire and gas system installed for that purpose.  From the information available it clearly did not, indicating a serious failure of safety systems: a totally unacceptable situation.

Mr Malcolm Webb of Oil & Gas UK (formally The Offshore Operators Association has claimed that utility systems are not safety critical as are housekeeping standards. The HSE has pointed out that 50% of the deluge systems did not function correctly on test! Condition of the plant was poor, there is an endemic failure of the overview of the operation at Senior Management level (Should be called incompetence).

The list of failures has the makings of the script for a Hollywood disaster movie.

The latest report by the HSE (KP3) issued last week failed to name the Operators who did not comply with their own safety cases. The report only gave an overall impression that the standard of managing ageing assets in the North Sea was unacceptable.  What nice words you write Mr Ian Whewell, should you not be making your findings public, after all the work force are entitled to be informed as a right under your own regulations, why should the perpetrators of incompetent management be allowed to hide behind so called code of “Confidentiality”. For the sake of the men and women working in our offshore industry providing us all with the standard of living we now take for granted can we now have the action needed to restore our confidence in the enforcing role the HSE have.  After all it is their prime  task.

Bill, your visit to the HSE has, without doubt, galvanised them into action, but has taken them three years to complete a report which in essence is a mirror image of your audit on the Shell operated platforms.  You hit the nail on the head and I am sure with your persistence and tenacity action will be eventually taken and others will take the credit.

Take a few minutes to look at the articles from the links below, the article from today’s Press and Journal and the HSE link.  The additional links within make sombre reading.

Open the PDF doc
Key Programme 3 (KP3) Installation Integrity [1.25mb]

Details from KP3 report [26kb]

It is a pity that the individual operators are not named as Shell is thought to be at the top of the list.  Don’t forget that they have 6 platforms and associated assets up for sale!

I am the author of a previous article on the same subject which Mr Donovan you kindly published in July 2006. I hope you will republish it now as a further reminder to Shell senior managers such as Jeroen van der Veer and Malcolm Brinded, that they have been warned repeatedly on these matters.

We read in the Guardian how Jeroen van der Veer has been “hurt” by Bill’s criticism on the subject of Shell North Sea safety, yet some of the latest news articles indicate Shell is still delinquent in its legal and moral obligations to the safety of its offshore employees. Quite frankly, if God forbid, a calamity was to occur on a Shell North Sea platform, I would not like to be in the position of these two incompetent mendacious individuals.  How Brinded manages to sleep at night knowing that he already has the deaths of two Shell employees on his conscience after failing to take proper remedial action in response to Bill’s original siren warnings is a mystery to me. He has not even issued a formal apology for his gross negligence. In this connection, I read with great interest the recent article in the Daily Mail about bringing in a manslaughter law for corporate killing. I hope it can be introduced on a retrospective basis so Brinded can be brought before the courts.

Daily Mail article of 19 November 2007: Corporate killers “must face mega-fines”

My previous comments… Shell North Sea Management Scandal between 1999 and 2003: Article by a “Shell Insider”: 10 July 2006

There are many thousands of Shell employees around the world who strive to work honestly and very hard to comply with the Shell published Codes and Standards of business. They will be devastated to hear that a “Bandit” group of about six Managers, from the very top downwards, have been able to bypass all the checks and balances built in to prevent wrong doing and have been circumventing these controls for such a long time without detection. I think the message to them is “check your back yard and make sure the same thing is not happening to you”.

Did Shell allow a disastrous lapse in safety standards in the lead up to being audited by Shell International in 1999 and again between 1999 and 2003?  All indications are yes they did.

The results of the 1999 audit were accepted, but nothing was done and the modus operandi of non-compliance with the approved Safety Case continued until 2003 when two lives were lost. If the findings of Bill Campbell’s 1999 audit had been acted on in correctly, then all the Brent Platform would have been gleaming in every way possible by 2003. The 2003 post accident audit uncovered an even worse situation prompting massive budget allocation to “put things right”, an after the event or Company image damage limitation exercise. Decide for yourself after reading Bill Campbell’s “right of reply”.

Bill Campbell whom I have known all of his 24 years in Shell is a person if you were in trouble he would help you in any aspect he could. His description in some of the media articles as a safe pair of hands does not do him justice. He is a greater man than I.

Following the BBC Scotland “The Human Price of Oil” screened on 14 June 2006 Shell issued statements to the media and worldwide Staff inferring that Bill Campbell was disillusioned and emotional ex employee trying to undermine the Shell Groups good name. Shell went as far as threatening legal action against one media source if it published any more articles.

Following the Cullen recommendations implementation period, Safety Operational Management Cases were written, procedural documents were written and communicated to all levels of Staff on and offshore. Massive hardware changes were made to comply with the ALERP principles. Operating parameters were laid down with stringent procedures to guide us all on what we could do and not do. Variations had to be assessed and fully discussed and approved at the appropriate level before any changes were permitted. A fully traceable paper trail was in place for everything.

So what happened pre audit 1999, and in the period 1999 – 2003?

Management had changed, re-organisations had taken place, many Shell positions had been replaced by Contractors. The new Shell Europe was about to be created. At this stage staff had to re-apply for their jobs, and there were not enough jobs available for everyone. Who in this climate would stand up against an all-powerful “bandit” – no one it seems. Failure to comply with the Safety Case went unchallenged after all Brent had high up times and even were rated as best in class by a Mackenzie survey! Things were very good or were they. Many corroded and leaking hydrocarbon carrying pipes were temporally repaired with neoprene strips and hose clips called “patches”. Budget was refused time and time again. The patch which failed resulting in the September fatal release of hydrocarbons was on the job list for replacement during the summer 2003 shut down but was deferred. The offshore staff had long ago given up the fight and accepted the situation. A classic and well documented case of “Human reliance on defective equipment” (refer to the HSE 2001/53 report on this subject).

Bill Campbell even tried to get evidence to the Fatal Accident Enquiry but his attempt was judged very interesting but not relevant due to the time intervals. It appears that the Technical ability of the persons advising the Procurator Fiscal failed to make the importance of the connection between audits and refused to allow Bills contribution.

What next?

Shell clearly failed in its duty to operate its North Sea Assets according to the approved Safety Case. Shell has attempted to refute the contents of its own internal audits driven by the same “Bandits” who failed to take action when they should have done in 1999.

This group are despicable and dangerous men requiring external pressures to ensure they are brought to justice thus exposing them to the full force of the Law together with Public opinion not forgetting the wrath of the Shareholders influence.


Name, background details and email address supplied on a confidential basis.

Two HSE documents were supplied with this article. They are accessible via the links below.

Acrobat Reader is needed to access the HSE reports below. Please be patient when downloading. To download a FREE Acrobat Reader click on the following link:

HSE: Preventing the propagation of error and misplaced reliance on faulty systems: A guide to human error dependency

HSE: Temporary/permanent pipe repair – Guidelines and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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