BP slammed for North Sea safety breaches


BP has been reprimanded for putting workers in danger when tonnes of boiling hot heating fluid leaked during a “catastrophic failure” of equipment on the Schiehallion floating production, storage and offloading vessel last year.

The incident is one of several failures in BP’s operational risk assessment procedures at its North Sea operations highlighted today in a safety warning from the Health & Safety Executive.

News of the incidents comes a day after BP chief executive Bob Dudley said he was putting safety and risk management at the heart of the company following the blowout last year at the Macondo well in the US Gulf, leading to the deaths of 11 men.

The leak on the Schiehallion FPSO happened on 24 September, leading to a three-month shutdown for repairs.

The fluid was at a temperature of 123 Degrees Celsius when it escaped through a pinhole crack in a heating line.

BP said the leak was contained on deck and that nobody was injured. No fluid escaped into the sea, it added.

The HSE said BP was aware the wall of the heating line was thinning severely three days before the leak happened but decided to carry on with operations.

“No operational risk assessment was carried out to determine whether this was safe for continued operation or should be shut down,” the HSE said.

“You carried on operation of this line…and the line failed catastrophically.”

BP said today: “Last year BP received an Improvement Notice from the HSE concerning the quality of its operational risk assessments in the North Sea.

“We have already taken a number of actions to improve this aspect of risk management and will ensure all learnings are shared and implemented.

“BP’s safety performance in the North Sea during 2010 improved considerably and we continue to pursue all opportunities to reduce and minimise safety and operational risk.”

The Improvement Notice served by the HSE inspectors ordered BP to correct the problems by 31 May.

In the UK, operational risk assessments are generally associated with temporary changes and work to plant and equipment on oil and gas facilities.

In another incident on the Clair platform, inspectors said BP did not adequately assess the potential risk to workers following a leak of lubricating oil in a turbine enclosure.

This meant work was carried out after fire detection systems had been deactivated, putting workers in potential danger had a fire broken out.

On the ETAP platform, BP considered operating the facilities with insufficient lifeboat capacity, breaching safety rules.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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