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By Bill Campbell – Retired HSE Group Auditor, Shell International

The physics of fire is readily explained by the simple fire triangle where the constituents needed to be available for fire to begin and persist are a heat source, oxygen and a combustible fuel.

In our industry in 1988 and later in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore India were witnessed catastrophic happenings where an escalating hydrocarbon event could not be curtailed, went out of control and escalated because of the abundance of fuel in massive amounts, mainly gas.

The abundance of fuel on an offshore installation, or on a London Tower building, housing hundreds of people, raises the risk to persons occupying these facilities significantly.  Risk is not just the probability of a fire starting but the potential consequences of that fire should it start and take hold.    

Following Grenfell Tower, where we witnessed with our own eyes these consequences, the immediate action pan UK is to remove combustible cladding from the exterior walls of these buildings, this single act we all agree will reduce fire risks dramatically in the future.  That the cladding was there in the first place is a matter for the Inquiry.

This blanket removal or restriction of fuel as a potential feedstock to a fire was also a solution from the 1988 disaster on Piper Alpha, almost 30 years ago.

In 1988 the public inquiry recommendations also focussed on restricting the availability of fuel, hydrocarbons, oil etc that may cause an escalation of a hydrocarbon event.  Billions were spent in the North Sea on additional ESDV, prevention of oil pools, rapid process blowdown to flare the gas envelope etc under a regime following design and hardware changes, and competence training, where operators could demonstrate in a Safety Case remarkably low levels of risk, for example Temporary Refuge Impairment at no greater than once per 1000 years of operation, remarkable indeed.

So here are two entirely different fires, in two entirely different facilities and locations but the deaths and destruction had one thing in common, combustible fuel and lots of it.

It looks like FLNG is a future, certainly a future that Shell has bet on. 

Other developments around Prelude, such as Pluto and Ichthys chose not to put an LNG/LPG hazardous substances plant on an offshore installation.  If you agree with the indisputable facts above it should be clear that the presence or potential presence of an abundance of fuel to feed a fire demonstrably and significantly increases the risks by increasing the potential of such a fire especially on a vessel in a remote and isolated location such as Prelude.

It is not just that Prelude stores in tanks located under the deck, a deck that supports the hydrocarbon process and utilities which rise 100ft above the deck, lots of fuel, but it’s the enormous almost unimaginable quantities of fuel in the form of LNG and LPG held in these tanks.  According to the project enough energy to feed Greater London for 10 days or so.

From their regular public statements, I sometimes wonder if Shell fully understands the potential risks of FLNG.  Perhaps it is internal self-doubts within RDS that lead it to declare in alternative facts and it seems defensively that operational risks to personnel on Prelude will be the same as if not lower than conventional offshore installations. 

How can this possibly be true? 

Time will tell whether the Shell option for development is the best technical solution.

I think Society in general and certainly Shell and its employees would be better served by a more realistic assessment of the risks of Prelude and FLNG in general.  By this means perhaps understand, and be better prepared for the potential consequences of their decision should something go horribly wrong.


The links below are to a series of articles, some triggered by a well-placed whistleblower directly involved in the pioneering Royal Dutch Shell Prelude project. Includes articles by Mr Bill Campbell above, the retired distinguished HSE Group Auditor of Shell International and another retired Shell guru with a track record of spotting potential pitfalls in major Shell projects.

ARTICLE: Voser wisely abandons an unstable ship: 28 December 2013

ARTICLE: Royal Dutch Shell Prelude to disaster?: 10 Jan 2014 

ARTICLE: Shell Prelude FLNG: loss of containment of hydrocarbons almost inevitable: 21 Feb 2014 

ARTICLE: What should frighten stiff Royal Dutch Shell shareholders: 15 March 2014 

ARTICLE: Tales of the Unexpected and Royal Dutch Shell Prelude FLNG: 28 March 2014 

ARTICLE: Prelude FLNG: A case of all your eggs in the one basket: 10 July 2014 

ARTICLE: Prelude FLNG risks are on par with modern offshore oil and gas facilities say Shell – but are they?: 23 Sept 2014

ARTICLE: Royal Dutch Shell Prelude Project ‘A Step Too Far’: 25 Sept 2014

ARTICLE: SpaceShip Two: Shell Prelude another pioneering venture fraught with risk: 2 November 2014

ARTICLE: WA turns spotlight on FLNG safety: 11 November 2014

ARTICLE: Prelude a giant production and processing barge masquerading as a ship: 11 November 2014 

ARTICLE: Sunday Times Article: Prelude a potential white elephant: 11 November 2014 

ARTICLE: Damning Verdict on Shell’s Prelude FLNG Propaganda: 12 November 2014 

ARTICLE: Combustible pioneering behemoths – the Hindenburg and Shell Prelude: 21 November 2014 

ARTICLE: Key role of Shell lawyers in pioneering Shell Prelude FLNG: 05 December 2014 

ARTICLE: The Future of Natural Gas: LNG vs. FLNG: 26 Feb 2015 

ARTICLE: The Sydney Morning Herald: WA inquiry shines spotlight on floating LNG safety fears: 8 May 2015 

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Delays slow Prelude’s sail-away: 11 April 2016 

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Gas industry needs to work harder, innovate: Shell boss: 12 April 2016 

ARTICLE: ENERGY VOICE: GE starts production on Shell’s Prelude risers, must withstand a 1-in-10,000-year cyclonic event: 11 April 2016 

ARTICLE: THE AUSTRALIAN: Shell chief Ben van Beurden backs FLNG program:13 April 2016 

ARTICLE: THE WEST AUSTRALIAN: Enthusiasm cools for Prelude FLNG: 13 April 2016 

ARTICLE: BY JOHN DONOVAN: Musings about the OPL 245 Shell/ENI corruption scandal and the sinking confidence in Prelude: 13 April 2016 

ARTICLE: BY BILL CAMPBELL: Project Prelude – A case study in the generation of real material debt: 17 April 2016/a>

Hazardex: Shell Australia’s giant Prelude floating LNG project likely to come on stream in 2017: 20 Sept 2016

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