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Piper Alpha - 30 years on

merchantman

War Hero
It is 30 years today since the Piper Alpha disaster. My ship, at the time, was reported to be alongside the platform when it happened. Fortunately it was not, it was in Southampton loading cable to go out there. I was on leave at the time but rejoined about 2-3 weeks later. I flew over the platform in the chopper, it was still burning then.

Piper Alpha's 167 dead to be remembered
 
Will there be a minute's silence in Tesco? Somehow I doubt it.
 
Did a stint on the Forties field in the mid 80's with BP, not so much the oil fields as the killing fields so many people were dying in the North Sea in the day.

RIP lads.
 

Yokel

LE
RIP lads.

The Piper Alpha disaster was a demonstration of everything that could be done wrong, being done wrong. Off the top of my head:

1. The rig was originally for extracting oil, was gas extraction became part of its job, extra equipment was fitted in without any great thought to separating things, and whilst there were fire walls there were no blast walls to contain gas explosions. The control room was within the zone likely to be disabled by any such explosion.

2. The Permit to Work system was basically just a formality. The event that caused the initial explosion was personnel under pressure restarting a condensate pump, which had been under repair, but the paperwork was misplaced. Unfortunately it was in no fit state to be used, and was unable to handle to pressure after restart.

3. The explosion disabled the control room. Divers had put foam matting over metal grilles, causing crude oil to pool and catch fire, heating high pressure gas pipelines with catastrophic results. Procedures had broken down so much that the automatic pumps, which in the event of fire should have pumped tonnes of seawater to sprinklers, were left off after diving operations - when they were turned off for diver safety, and nobody was responsible for turning them back to standby.

4. Managers aboard other rigs in the field felt unable to stop oil production. Although Piper Alpha herself had stopped production, back pressure from the continued pumping from the other rigs continued to feed to the fire. This sort of event had not been planned for or trained for.

5. The workers who obeyed what little safety training they had all perished - they had simply been told to stay put and wait for the helicopter.

In addition to the lives lost, many of the survivors have suffered terribly with psychological problems.

I think Lord Cullen's report is on the net somewhere.
 
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Hippohunter

War Hero
I remember that night well. Only a couple of weeks later one of the Seakings with some of the crew involved in the rescue attended the AAC Air Show at Middle Wallop. The whole affair was a classic example of "profit before lives".
 
The root cause was a blind flange fitted on a gas line so they could do maintenance, it wasn't a gas tight flange, and it had been fitted just hand tight to keep contamination out of the pipe. When it let go, it released LPG at 3 tonnes a second. IIRC, gas feed lines from at least 3 other rigs feeding Alpha blew out in the fire.
Heat output from the fire was estimated to be @ 100 Gigawatts, the same as a small nuclear bombs fireball.
 

Dark_Nit

LE
Book Reviewer
I have actually lectured on the Piper Alpha disaster and have several videos and reports on it.
@Yokel is largely correct, but it was even worse than he says in his post.

The main condensate pumps had two pressure relief valves, one for eack pump. These are fvckoff big babies which are designed to relieve excess gas pressure to the flare. Valve A was removed for maintenance but it wasn't finished before the shift end and the line was temporarily closed off with a blank flange which IIRC was not fully tightened down as it was going to be removed shortly to replace the valve.

The shift handover was that Pump A was not to be re-started until the valve was replaced. The Permit to Work and shift handover was not carried out properly and the shift manager was not aware that Pump A was out of commission.

During the following shift Pump B iced up with Methane Hydrate (a common problem with wet gas). Pump A was then re-started and the pressure then blew the blank flange off starting a massive release of gas and condensate.

The gas exploded. The walls were originally designed for fire resistance as it was an oil platform and therefore blew out under the explosion pressure. Had they been designed for gas then they would have been explosion resistant.

The control room was located next to the explosion and was destroyed. This is something else that we would not do now as the control room would be in a protected location. Since the control room was out, there was no radio contact so Tartan and claymore continued to pump gas and oil into the collection system at Piper.

I won't go into the details of the Permit system but suffice to say that we still use Piper as an example of how not to do a shift handover.

RIP
 
Rampant capitalism in a nutshell. money matters. lives are cheap.
A bit like a tale a bloke who used to fly with us told me.
He was an engineer on tankers. Was working for a well known septic outfit ((started with an A and ended in co),in the gulf. The ship was making way in a calm sea with planks on ropes over the side. At one point a dusky painter fell off his plank, the Forman’s response was” get another man on there”.
No effort was made to stop the ship or lower a boat. He was told “ non of them can swim and they will be shark bait anyway by the time we stopped the ship.”
As you say in oil life was “ costed”.
 

merchantman

War Hero
I was working on dive support ships at the time, we were kept busy for a good while after fitting emergency shut down valves in the lines remote from various platforms.
 
It took that disaster waiting to happen to bring safety to the industry , Permit to Work prior was just a joke. I worked on a 4 legged jack up in the Southern North Sea and the permit to work system became a religion afterwards. Permits to Work, Permit for Hot Work, Permit for Cold Work and even a Permit for no Work ( Issued for the Roustabouts to be on deck)

RIP all those who have perished at anytime
 
Piper Alpha is a big part of our Tanker training to this day and the one example how it can all just go totally Pete Tong. RIP chaps.
 

4(T)

LE
Rampant capitalism in a nutshell. money matters. lives are cheap.



Well, to be fair, without capitalism there'd be no oil industry, in fact almost no industry of any kind. We'd all still be living short lives in some sort of aboriginal subsistence environment.

Having bad procedures, not being aware of risk, or not being able to foresee a new type of emergency is not necessarily linked to evil capitalists, if only for the evident reason that having a catastrophic accident is clearly bad for business....
 
Well, to be fair, without capitalism there'd be no oil industry, in fact almost no industry of any kind. We'd all still be living short lives in some sort of aboriginal subsistence environment.

Having bad procedures, not being aware of risk, or not being able to foresee a new type of emergency is not necessarily linked to evil capitalists, if only for the evident reason that having a catastrophic accident is clearly bad for business....
Its a bit like in aviation an old saying goes. “ if you think safety is expensive, wait until you get the bill for an accident!.
 
Well, to be fair, without capitalism there'd be no oil industry, in fact almost no industry of any kind. We'd all still be living short lives in some sort of aboriginal subsistence environment.

Having bad procedures, not being aware of risk, or not being able to foresee a new type of emergency is not necessarily linked to evil capitalists, if only for the evident reason that having a catastrophic accident is clearly bad for business....

Full agree, my comment was on the outcome of the race to acquire the sacred dollar, and all its inherent faults, which are inevitable.
 
If its because you're worried people might find it boring, I for one would be interested.

I for one did not find any safety brief/drill boring because I wanted to go home at the end of my trip. Sadly some did and did not go home or if they did it was usually by a medical evac or in a bag.

RIP ALL
 
I watched the news reports from home, but got to work the next day and the Nimrod line was generating search and rescue aircraft to hold station over the rig and coordinate the rescue effort.

Several years later I was chatting to a bloke who worked for a company that certified oil rig workers for off shore work. He told me that the last part of the exam was to climb to a very high platform above the swimming pool, and they switched off all the lights. The workers then had to jump off the platform into the pool, in the dark, without hesitating. Hesitate or refuse to go and you don't get the certificate.

Further discussions highlighted that the best people to pass this part of the test were ex-forces. When told to jump they went, and the majority of the survivors on the night were those who jumped from the rig into the water rather than waiting for rescue or direction.
 
A shame that also 30 years later they are now using the Deepwater Horizon as another example of poor safety process triggered after another human and ecological disaster.

Putting profits before safety seems easy, until the Board are threatened with Corporate Manslaughter. Perhaps Shareholders having to pay would also make the cost of safety more important.
 

Dark_Nit

LE
Book Reviewer
If its because you're worried people might find it boring, I for one would be interested.
Briefly:

You get a permit to do something which is signed off by a competent person to say that you have taken the necessary precautions to do the job safely. You should be trained as a permit receiver, and the permit issuer will be trained to issue permits.

It can get messy at shift changeover as the full details of the job have to be communicated to both the oncoming shift manager and the operations people to make sure that they don't inadvertently interfere / put themselves in danger by frigging about with a piece of equipment that is under repair / maintenance.

The permit is only given for a specific period after which the job has to be re-inspected by a competent person and the permit either extended or re-issued.

Once the job is complete, it has to be inspected and the permit signed off as complete before bringing the kit back online.

The Piper cock up occurred because the job was stopped at the end of the shift partially completed. The condition of the plant was not communicated to the following shift manager. This was due to a number of factors but one of which was the "area permit" system that was used on Piper, where permits were sorted by area.

The outgoing shift manager did not meet with the oncoming manager and the peprwork was dumped in a box for the following morning. Thus the shift manager was not aware that the equipment was still under maintenance and not in a fit state to use.

30 years ago I was a shift plant manager with Shell. We used to meet with our outgoing oppo for 30 minutes at the start of each shift (12h shifts) to get a full shift handover. We had a specific handover book which detailed the position of all jobs and and any issues including outstanding permits that would affect work.

Generally you would have the following types of permit:
  • Hot work (especially where there risk of flammable materials being present) - which would include welding, burning, grinding, drilling etc.
  • Confined space entry (obvious)
  • Roof access permit (fragile roof, working at height, plus often pressure relief valves discharge to the roof area)
  • Electrical work (ensure that equipment is isolated etc)
  • Pipe break in (breaking in to a line containing hazardous chemicals)
  • Excavation permit (buried cables and pipelines)
  • Other permits e.g. diving permit, high voltage isolation certificate etc etc
If you want to know more, this is the HSE guidance that we use and I recommend to people when we do PTW training:
http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg250.pdf
Free download of pdf
 

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