Piper Alpha: Lessons Learnt, 2008 Piper Alpha was a large North Sea oil platform that started production in 1976. It produced oil from 24 wells and in its early life it had also produced gas from two wells. It was connected by an oil pipeline to Flotta and by gas pipelines to two other installations. In 1988, Piper Alpha was operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd ("OpCal"), a wholly owned subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation. On 6 July 1988, there was a massive leakage of gas condensate on Piper Alpha, which was ignited causing an explosion which led to large oil fires. The heat ruptured the riser of a gas pipeline from another installation. This produced a further massive explosion and fireball that engulfed the Piper Alpha platform. All this took just 22 minutes. The scale of the disaster was enormous. 167 people died, 62 people survived. It is believed that the leak came from pipe work connected to a condensate pump. A safety valve had been removed from this pipe work for overhaul and maintenance. The pump itself was undergoing maintenance work. When the pipe work from which the safety valve had been removed was pressurised at start-up, it is believed the leak occurred. Initial response from industry As details of the causes of the disaster emerged, every offshore Operator carried out immediate wide-ranging assessments of their installations and management systems. These included: Improvements to the "permit to work" management systems Relocation of some pipeline emergency shutdown valves Installation of sub sea pipeline isolation systems Mitigation of smoke hazards Improvements to evacuation and escape systems Initiation of Formal Safety Assessments The industry invested in the order of £1 billion on these and other safety measures before Lord Cullen's Public Inquiry into the disaster reported. The Cullen Inquiry Lord Cullen chaired the official Public Inquiry into the disaster in two parts. The first was to establish the causes of the disaster. The second made recommendations for changes to the safety regime. The inquiry began in November 1988, with Lord Cullen’s report being published in November 1990. UKOOA, the oil and gas production companies’ trade association (now Oil & Gas UK), was represented throughout but did not participate in Part I, which was to establish the cause of the disaster. It did, however, play a full role in Part II, which considered measures to prevent future major accidents, and provided 34 expert witnesses.
The Cullen Report Lord Cullen made 106 recommendations within his report, all of which were accepted by industry, many being a direct result of industry evidence. Responsibilities for implementing them were spread across the regulator and the industry. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was to oversee 57. The operators were responsible for 40. Eight were for the whole industry to progress and the last was for the Standby Ship Owners Association. Industry acted urgently to carry out the 48 recommendations that operators were directly responsible for. By 1993 all had been acted upon and substantially implemented. At the same time the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) developed and implemented Lord Cullen's key recommendation: the introduction of safety regulations requiring the operator/owner of every fixed and mobile installation operating in UK waters to submit to the HSE, for their acceptance, a safety case. The Safety Case Regulations The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations came into force in 1992. By November 1993 a safety case for every installation had been submitted to the HSE and by November 1995 all had had their safety case accepted by the HSE. The Safety Case Regulations require the operator/owner (known as the 'duty holder') of every fixed and mobile installation operating in UK waters to submit to the HSE, for their acceptance, a safety case. The safety case must give full details of the arrangements for managing health and safety and...
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