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Alarm over hundreds of offshore incidents


The Press and Journal (Aberdeen) 

Published: 09/02/2009

Health and safety experts are called to investigate a serious incident in the North Sea oil and gas sector almost every day, new figures revealed.

Between 2006 and 2008 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was involved in 1,042 incidents offshore.

Among these were 841 “dangerous occurrences”, 192 accidents and nine health- related inquiries.

The figures, obtained by the Press and Journal under freedom of information laws, led to calls last night to improve the North Sea oil and gas industry’s safety record.

Ian Whewell, head of the HSE’s offshore division, said the figures were a “snapshot” of the more serious incidents the agency deals with, adding that hydrocarbon leaks remain a particular worry.

“A major concern that has been arising is the condition of infrastructure,” he said.

“Hydrocarbon release is a good indicator because, put simply, here is a substance which should be kept inside the equipment. If it is getting out, something has gone wrong and something has not been adequately maintained.

“For the period 2006 to 2008 the hydrocarbon leaks, on the whole, did not improve, in fact the situation deteriorated slightly.

“That was very concerning and there has been a big push with the industry to try and improve this.”

Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the OILC/RMT union, said: “It is evident that there is room for improvement and the HSE and ourselves are very keen to see that happen.

“That’s why we have the various groups working together with the industry to reduce these figures.”

The sector has come under fire recently with warnings of the potential for another Piper Alpha-style disaster.

Following last year’s 20th anniversary of the tragedy, in which 167 people died when a massive leak of gas condensate turned the platform into a fireball, the HSE said the industry’s failure to reduce the number of hydrocarbon releases, coupled with an increase in major injuries, suggested basic safety systems were not being followed.

SNP energy spokesman Mike Weir, MP for Angus, led demands for a substantial and speedy response from the industry, warning: “There can be no room for complacency or compromise on issues which essentially come down to life and death.”

Industry body Oil and Gas UK yesterday insisted there had been an improvement in health and safety offshore in recent months and it expects to see more improvements.

A spokeswoman said: “We are consistently working on improving our safety record and have done much to highlight and shift focus to process safety and asset integrity management, in order to effectively deal with dangerous occurrences, in particular hydrocarbon releases.”

She said the safety record improved greatly in 2007, with the lowest number of major injuries since 1995-96, despite a 22% increase in the offshore workforce.”

Shell – investigated by the HSE 207 times in the past three years – insisted that safety remains “paramount”.

A spokesman said: “Our reliability trends, hydrocarbon release trends and spill trends have improved year-on-year since 2004, reflecting the increased levels of investment and operational scrutiny.”

BP, which was investigated 85 times, said: “BP is a safe and responsible operator in the North Sea and the safety of our people is our highest priority. However, we are not complacent and recognise the need to continuously monitor, review, update and improve whenever and wherever possible.”


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