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.royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net, shell2004.com, shellshareholders.org, don-marketing.com and cybergriping.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article: royaldutchshellplc.com