Piper Alpha Case Studies

Topics: Piper Alpha, Oil platform, North Sea Pages: 11 (3392 words) Published: December 13, 2011
This research report is about the Piper Alpha Disaster that happened in 1988. Being one of the major oil production oil-rig in the UK, the accident that took place more than 20 years ago caught the attention of many, especially those in the field. The happening was largely due to the complacency of the supervisors as well as the safety measures of the management. Using the internet, academic journals and textbooks available, the research was conducted by referring to various sources of information regarding the incident. After the explosion there are many new prevention steps taken in this field of industry as well as new managing system of the offshore regulatory control.

1. Introduction
1.1 Background
The Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil production platform operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd. It accounted for around ten per cent of the oil and gas production from North Sea at the time. Located about 120 miles north-east of Aberdeen, The platform began production in 1976 first as an oil platform and then later converted to gas production (Drysdale & Slyvester-Evans, 1998).

For safety reasons, the modules were organized such that the most dangerous operations were distant from personnel areas such as the accommodation deck, but still this still one of the worst offshore oil disaster to date.

1.2 The Happening
The disaster began with a routine maintenance procedure. On the morning of the 6th of July 1988, a certain backup propane condensate pump in the processing area needed to have its pressure safety valve checked (Drysdale & Slyvester-Evans, 1998). The work could not be completed by 1800 and the workers asked for and received permission to leave the rest of the work until the next day.

Later in the evening during the next work shift, the primary condensate pump failed. None of those present were aware that a vital part of the machine had been removed and decided to start the backup pump. Gas products escaped from the hole left by the valve. Gas audibly leaked out at high pressure, ignited and exploded, blowing through the firewalls. The fire spread through the damaged firewalls, destroyed some oil lines and soon large quantities of stored oil were burning out of control. About twenty minutes after the initial explosion, at 2220, the fire had spread and become hot enough to weaken and then burst the gas risers from the other platforms.

Many jump out of windows into the sea hoping to be picked up by safe boats but only 67 were saved in this fashion. 167 out of 229 people on board were killed, mostly died suffocated on carbon monoxide and fumes in the accommodation area. The generation and utilities module, which included the fireproofed accommodation block, slipped into the sea. The largest part of the platform followed it. The whole accident took place in 22 minutes.

1.3 Purpose of the Report
The purpose of this research is to examine the objectives and structure of the management of the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea, UK. The operation and industrial processes of the platform will be carefully evaluated and to spot the risk or any areas overlooked that contributed to the accident. To identify the consequences of the accident (e.g. damage and costs) and the improvements in the management systems to prevent such disaster from happening again.

2. Management and Operation
2.1 Piper Field Oil Platform

The Piper Alpha oil production platform was a North Sea oil production platform in the United Kingdom operated by Occidental Petroleum Ltd. It began production in 1976 until 1988 where the disaster sinked the whole platform into the sea. First the Piper Alpha platform functions as an oil platform and then later converted into gas production.

2.1.1 Management
Four companies that later transformed into the OPCAL joint venture to obtain an oil exploration license in 1972 that lead them to discover the Piper oil field located north of...
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