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Total E&P UK Ltd received record fine following largest ever North Sea gas release

Date:
22 December 2015

Oil and gas production company Total E&P UK Ltd has been fined a record £1.125 million at the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen after it admitted failures that led to largest release of gas on record from the Elgin Offshore platform.

On 25th March 2012, as rig workers were attempting a ‘well kill’, there was a sudden and uncontrolled release of gas and condensate, which created a real risk of fire or explosion on the platform. All 238 personnel were safely evacuated.

The neighbouring platforms were shut down and a two mile shipping and aircraft exclusion zone was imposed around the Elgin. It took 51days for the well to be brought under control, allowing more than 6,000 tonnes and gas condensate to be released, equivalent to more than 300 road tankers.

Total E&P Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 13(1)(a) and (b) of the Offshore Installations and Wells (Design and Construction, etc) Regulations 1996 and Section 33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

The Sheriff court was told that Total had been experiencing problems of high pressure gas leaking into the affected well for some time. On 25th February 2012, the well suffered a series of casing failures, which Total correctly responded to by beginning a well kill operation on the 15th March. However, Total failed to identify and implement sufficient control measures and control of the well was progressively lost until, on the 25th March 2012, the well failed.

HSE Operations Manager Russell Breen, said:

“This incident was foreseeable and entirely preventable. There were a number of failures on the part of Total, which contributed to the blowout. They failed to properly calculate the weight of kill fluid required; departed from the proposed well kill plan without considering relevant contingency arrangements and relied on an untested assumption that a sudden uncontrolled release at the wellhead could not occur. All of these contributed to them losing control of the well and the sudden uncontrolled release of gas.

“Industry must learn from this, it is an important reminder of the ever-present hazards with oil and gas production and the need for them to be rigorously managed. This could have easily led to loss of life.”

Total has cooperated fully with HSE’s investigation of the accident, undertaken their own investigations, reviewed their procedures and shared the lessons learned with the wider industry in order to reduce the likelihood of others repeating the errors.

Notes to editors:

  1. This is the largest fine handed down by a Sheriff’s Court for health and safety offences.
  2. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. hse.gov.uk
  3. In Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has sole responsibility for the raising of criminal proceedings for breaches of health and safety legislation
  4. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/
  5. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

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