Piper Alpha Disaster

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  • Topic: Piper Alpha, Oil platform, North Sea
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  • Published : December 6, 2011
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Piper Alpha was operated by Occidental Petroleum. The platform began its production in 1976, first as an oil production and then later converted to oil and gas production. In the night of July 6th 1988, the platform was engulfed in a catastrophic fire, which caused the death of 167 men and cost billions of dollars in property damage. There are only 61 survivors who saved their lives by jump off the platform in to the sea. At the time of the disaster, the Piper Alpha disaster was the worst offshore disaster in terms of live lost and industry impact. There are two main factors that lead to the disaster, which are human factor and the design and process factor. Lord Cullen has made some recommendations on improvements and preventions on the offshore installations. The improvements and preventions are the Permit to Work System should be taken seriously when there are any maintenance works on being carried out on the platform. The offshore platform management should provide good training and well prepared their workers in emergency procedures when emergency situations. Besides, the two improvements and preventions, the offshore platform management should upgraded their fire walls to blast walls, to prevent the fire walls from disintegrated on the gas explosion, penetrating oil and gas pipe lines that can lead to fire.

1. Introduction

2.1 Background of Piper Alpha

The Piper Alpha Oil Production platform was located about 120 miles northeast of Aberdeen, Scotland and built it for the Piper Field in the North Sea. The Piper Field was, discovered by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd. in January 1973, with the Piper Alpha platform becoming operational in 1976.

2.2 The purpose of Piper Alpha operation

The Piper Alpha platform had been designed as an oil production platform at first, but then the Piper Alpha platform went through several modification and redesigns to accommodate increased gas and oil production for the fields nearby. This redesigning make the Piper Alpha platform changed from a pure oil production platform to an oil and gas production platform in late 1980. A sub-sea pipeline, shared with the Claymore platform, connected Piper Alpha to the Flotta oil terminal on the Orkney Islands. Piper Alpha also had gas pipelines connecting it to both the Tartan platform and to the separate MCP-01 gas-processing platform. In total, Piper Alpha had four main transport risers: An oil export risers, The Claymore risers, The Tartan gas riser and The MCP-01 gas riser.

The image below shows the locations of the platforms in the North Sea with their associated oil and gas terminals.

2.3 What had happen to Piper Alpha

Piper Alpha platform was engulfed in a catastrophic fire on July 6th 1988. The disaster caused the death of 167 men out of 228 men, which are 165 men on board of the Piper Alpha platform, and other two men on board a rescue vessel.

The Piper Alpha disaster all began with a routine maintenance procedure. The Piper Alpha platform consists of two groups of workers, which are morning shift workers and night shift workers. On the morning of the 6th of July 1988, the morning shift workers have removed a gas condensate pump from service for maintenance of its Pressure Safety Valve (PSV). The Piper Alpha platform had two such pumps (gas condensate pump), which has been indicated as Pump A and Pump B. When the routine maintenance work had being carried out, the Pump A had been isolated and shut down. The maintenance work could not be completed by the end of morning shift worker finish their work, so they have been given permission to leave the rest of the maintenance work to be continued on the next day. Temporarily the PSV had been installed with a plate; this was to ensure to keep debris out of the pipework while the PSV was maintained. But the plate was not been installed tightly.

Unfortunately, the night shift workers do not aware of this. The night shift workers had...
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