Norway’s state-owned oil and gas enterprise Statoil has come in for more withering criticism, this time over an accident on another of its North Sea platforms, Gullfaks B. Regulators and their investigators are scolding the company for its “serious shortcomings” and failure to learn from earlier mistakes.
The incident occurred in December during testing after a period of maintenance, and saw 730 kilograms of methane gas leak out of the facility in just one hour.
The leak lasted for two hours in total before being stopped, by which time the gas had reached the middle and upper decks of the rig.
Lucky to avoid explosions
The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), which has compiled the report on the incident, told newspaper Aftenposten that it is “worried over the apparently inadequate effect of improvement processes established after these and other incidents by Statoil.”
The report suggests that “staff in the area could have been exposed to serious injury or been killed if the gas had ignited,” and that “under slightly different circumstances, there could have been a leak into the air at a significantly bigger rate,” leading to “the build-up of a large, explosive gas cloud” that would have represented “significant potential for a large accident.”
There have been a number of recent accidents involving gas at Statoil facilities. As recently as March 10, there was a gas leak on Gullfaks C related to the release of a gas pocket during the plugging of a well. Another incident involving the risk of explosion occurred on February 10 at the company’s Deepsea Atlantic rig in the Gullfaks South field.
Gullfaks was also in the news last spring, when an incident on May 19 led to the closing of production for several weeks, and mass evacuations. The police investigated Statoil over the incident after another PSA report also suggested that it was only chance that avoided explosions and more serious problems.
Statoil: Explosions ‘very unlikely’
Statoil has already conducted its own internal report on the December incident, which claimed that ignition of the gas was unlikely. The internal investigation nonetheless highlighted a combination of miscalculations, bad planning and weak leadership that led to the accident, and a company official told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that Statoil was taking the incident “very seriously.”
Statoil’s director for development and production, Øystein Michelsen, told Aftenposten, however, that Statoil rejected the contention that a leak of this nature could lead to an accident, stating that “we have set up platforms and systems in order to stop a gas leak leading to an accident.” According to Michelsen, “it would take quite a lot for a gas leak of this kind to lead to an accident,” suggesting that it was “very unlikely” that the gas would ignite because it would have thinned out and avoided isolated sources of ignition.
While he added that Statoil “shares the regulator’s impatience in relation to the speed of improvements,” he claimed that they “have learned from these incidents, and have implemented a serious of measures that we believe will give results over the long term.” He was pointed out that the company has “halved the number of serious incidents” since 2004.