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Fuel giant sentenced over offshore platform gas releases

Date:
8 February 2016

One of the world’s largest oil and gas exploration and production companies has been fined after gas leaks on a gas platform off the Lincolnshire coast put workers’ lives in danger. 

ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited admitted serious safety failings in Lincoln Crown Court after two uncontrolled and one controlled but unexpected gas release, which occurred on the Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System (LOGGS) between 30 November and 1 December 2012. 

The LOGGS Complex is situated 70 miles off the Lincolnshire coast and is made up of five interlinked platforms. As well as having its own wells, the installation collects natural gas from other gas platforms in the Southern North Sea and pipes it to the onshore Theddlethorpe gas terminal. 

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the releases on 30 November resulted from maintenance work to replace a gas pressure control valve on one of three gas turbines used to generate electricity for the installation. 

To do this, the fuel gas pressure safety valve and a flexible hose had to be removed. 

Releases of gas occurred as a result of a number of deficiencies in isolation and planning, allowing gas to come out of an open ended pipe connected to the high pressure vent system. 

Breakdowns in communications across the five platforms of LOGGS also meant some workers incorrectly believed the platform was gas-free, putting the lives of up to 66 workers on board in danger if an ignition occurred.

A loss of electrical power made management of the emergency more difficult. Workers sent to investigate were put at extreme risk of death or serious injury as ignition of the gas would’ve resulted in an explosion. 

It is estimated around 603kg of produced hydrocarbon gas was released into the Turbine Hall during this incident. 

On 1 December, another gas release happened after batteries ran down. In this case, the isolation valve was closed in time. This stopped the gas accumulating in the turbine hall, which would have put workers at risk. 

HSE served ConocoPhillips (UK) Ltd with a Prohibition Notice on 13 December 2012, for failing to control the gas releases. The company confirmed on 21 December that modifications to LOGGS incident command system had been made to prevent a repeat of these incidents. 

ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited of Portman Street, London, pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Offshore Installations (Prevention of Fire and Explosion, and Emergency Response) Regulations 1995. It was fined £3,000,000 (£1m for each offence) and ordered to pay costs of £159,459. 

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector John Hawkins said: “There was a failure to identify the risk posed by the high-pressure vent systems when carrying out intrusive maintenance work. 

“ConocoPhillips failed to put in place appropriate process isolations to isolate the high-pressure vent from the worksite. 

“An assessment of the full extent of the maintenance intervention work was not carried out and the full isolations required were not identified. 

“Our investigations indicate there was a deviation from following procedures fully. The underlying cause of the incident was the inadequate implementation, control and oversight of the permit to work system, and the common isolation procedure. 

“It is only a matter of good fortune these incidents didn’t result in a serious, tragic incident.” 

For further information and guidance on risk assessment for offshore installations visit: http://www.hse.gov.uk/offshore/sheet32006.pdf

Notes to editors 

  1. 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. www.hse.gov.uk 
  2. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: www.legislation.gov.uk/  
  3. HSE news releases are available at http://press.hse.gov.uk

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