Piper Alpha Case Studies

Topics: FireSafety

Abstract 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.

Get quality help now
Marrie pro writer

Proficient in: Fire

5 (204)

“ She followed all my directions. It was really easy to contact her and respond very fast as well. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

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. amage 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 n oil exploration license in 1972 that lead them to discover the Piper oil field located north of England, beside Scotland. At the time of the disaster the Piper Oil field was accounted for approximately ten percent of the North Sea oil and gas production. The offshore oil and gas was a very new industry introduced to the United Kingdom very briefly 30 years ago. The naive government was seduced by the very promising reward of the industry, knowing that it’ll be high risk. The management disregarded adherence to certain safety rules.

There were regulations, but enforcement was not there. The nation and corporate pride rendered everything in disaster. 2. 1. 2 Structure and Function A large fixed platform, Piper Alpha was situated on the Piper oilfield, approximately 120 miles (193 km) northeast of Aberdeen in 474 feet (144 m) of water, and comprised four modules separated by firewalls. The platform was constructed by McDermott Engineering at Ardersier and UIE at Cherbourg, with the sections united at Ardersier before tow out during 1975, with production commencing in late 1976 (Drysdale & Slyvester-Evans, 1998).

The west and east elevation of the topsides of the Piper Alpha platform are as shown in figures 2 and 3. Module A, the wellhead module was considered to be the most hazardous were arranged so to provide a maximum separation with module D, which contain various utilities and also the accommodation deck above. Module comprises of 36 wellhead which is used to control the flow of hydrocarbons and water from the well. Module B is the production where separation of oil and other fluids took place. From there, the oil will also be pumped into the main oil-line for transmission to Flotta.

It contained the manifolds, test and main production seperators and the main oil line export pump. Module C contains the gas compression equipment whereby gas from the production seperators will be compressed for export ashore via the main oil line. In the early 1980’s, a gas conservation module had been installed at the 107’ level but at the time of the disaster this module was under maintenance and therefore gas was compressed and processed only in module C. 2. 2 Objectives of the Management

Consider the situation prevailing in the North Sea ten minutes prior to the incident, the standard operating climate in the United Kingdom offshore oil and gas industry could be characterized as a mixture of greed, ignorance, complacency and the lack of concern for the danger that the individual faced. Though this has been long recognized, but the conveniently ignored fact was given approval by the government. It excluded the offshore industry from the provision of the Health and Safety at Work Act, and allowed the government safety inspectors under the Department of Energy of watch over it. 3. Industrial Processes . 1 Operation Functions The Piper Alpha production level and deck support level are shown in figures 4 and 5 respectively. The oil platform started production in 1976 with about 250,000 barrels (40,000 m3) of oil per day increasing to 300,000 barrels (48,000 m3). A gas recovery module was installed by 1980. Production declined to 125,000 barrels (19,900 m3) by 1988. The OPCAL also built the Flotta oil terminal on Orkney Island, using the sub-sea pipeline to deliver the processed oil to the terminal. The terminal also acts as a terminal for some other oil platform like the Tartan and Claymore field.

One thirty inch (0. 762 m) diameter main oil pipeline ran 128 miles (206 kilometers) from Piper Alpha to Flotta, with a short oil pipeline from the Claymore platform joining it some twenty miles (32 km) to the west. The Tartan field also fed oil to Claymore and then onto the main line to Flotta. Separate 46 cm diameter gas pipelines run from Piper to the Tartan platform and from Piper to the gas compressing platform some 30 miles (48 km) to the northwest. As mentioned in 2. 1. 2 structure and functions, module A, B and C are the main processing and production section.

Module D located at the north face/ end of the platform consist of the control room, workshops, electrical power generation, the emergency diesel generator and some switch gear. The accommodation deck is also directly above module D. Module A-D were all separated by firewalls which were not rated for explosion over pressure (Drysdale & Slyvester-Evans, 1998). The firewall between modules C and D was specified for a 6 hours fire rating while those between modules A and B and modules B and C were specified as a fire barrier of 4. 5 hours (see figure 4).

At the time of the disaster, the hydrocarbon inventory within the production modules was approximately 80 tonnes, this mainly being located in module B and, in particular, within the two production separators. In addition, there was a further 160 tonnes of diesel located in tanks above module C. The location of the risers on the platform is shown in figure 5. Each pipeline had an emergency shutdown valve located in close proximity to its respective pig trap. Each valve was designed to be closed from the control room and provide a positive isolation of the pipeline from the platform. 4.

Causes of the Incident 4. 1 Human Factors A number of human errors were identified to contribute to the severity of the incident including deficient analysis of hazard, deficiencies in permit to work system, inadequate training in this field of industry and emergency response procedure. There was a breakdown of the chain of command and lack of any communication to the platform’s crew (Pate-Cornell, 1992). The Cullen report on Piper Alpha was highly critical of the management system in the company. Managers had minimal qualifications, which led to poor practices and ineffective audits.

The workers on the platform were also not adequately trained in emergency procedures, and management was not trained to make up the gap and provide good leadership during a crisis situation. Other than that, Occidental Petroleum had regular safety audits of its facilities but they were not performed well. Few, if any, problems were ever brought up, even though there were serious issues with corrosion of deluge system pipes and heads and many other issues. When a major problem was found, it was sometimes just ignored. All these contributed greatly to the disaster. . 2 Design and Process Factors In the control room the monitoring panels were not clearly visible and operators could not tell were the alarms originated from during the explosion. The firewalls on Piper Alpha could have stopped the spread of a fire. They were however not built to withstand an explosion. The initial blast blew the firewalls down, and the subsequent fire spread unimpeded. The disaster would not have occurred if the pump where work was being done had been positively isolated when first detected the problem at night (Pate-Cornell, 1992).

Isolation is not achieved by shutting a valve but requires means such as insertion of a slip plate or removal of a pipe section. Moreover, the emergency shutdown and backup valves were not in proper location where it is easily accessible in case of fire. Above all, there was no temporary safe refuge (e. g. a room that could withstand fire and have breathable atmosphere) on the platform to weather disaster of such kind. The escape and evacuation route was also very limited, causing much of the on board workers to die of suffocation. 4. 3 Roots Factors

The main factors that cause this terrible incident would largely be blamed on humans. The overall attitude of the United Kingdom government and also the management were complacent and ignorant. There were many issues that were rushed over when delving into this industry, blinded by pride and the offer of high-tech sunrise industry. Regulations and rules set were just for legal purposes only, not really much enforced in the days. OPCAL invested a lot into this new technology. Thinking that so much had been invested and earned, they will obviously spend enough to make sure it won’t just lose everything so easily.

There was a grim acceptance among the workforce that if a ? 500 million platform would go up in smoke, there must be 5000 lifeboat or more than enough rubber dingy would save their life. Lifeboat were being guarded by unprepared crew, nobody took the safety aspect seriously (Bull, 2004). The whole industry and project was full of complacency, from the government to the management, to the workers. This killing attitude was reflected in their work procedures, precautions taken and even the building of the structure itself. 5. Consequences of the Effects of the Incident . 1 Health 229 people were on board and 167 were killed, including two men from the standby vessel. Many of those saved were also seriously injured. Other than that, most of the survivors were diagnose of having a long term psychological problems. They were reposted of having psychological and behavioral symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (Pate-Cornell, 1992). 28 of the survivors had difficulty in finding employment following the disaster, it appears that offshore employers the Piper Alpha survivors as bringers of bad luck.

Family members and friends of the victims were also greatly affected on their psychological and social life. Other than the drawbacks on health, it was also accounted that the Piper Alpha survivors were stronger than before the disaster. They’ve learned to values things more, having a change of perspective and strengthening the family bond they have. 5. 2 Environment and Ecology The impact of the disaster on the environment was notable. Scientist showed that a highly toxic chemical that fell into the North Sea during the explosion would not have been completely burned up.

Up to 5. 5tonnes of cooling fluid, polychlorinated bithenyl (PCB) went into to the sea, disrupting the marine life. The chemical was very resistant toward fire and decomposition quickly went into the food chain. Fishes caught in the North Sea were found to be contaminated with the chemical. The burning of the oil and gas on the platform produces great amount of harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. These gases could have contributed to the increasing green house effect and also air pollution.

There was also oil spilled to the sea during the explosion. These oils contaminated the surrounding beaches, coastal areas and shallow lagoons. Some animals were totally wiped out due to the contaminated water such as the littoral crab. 5. 3 Costs The disaster costs a total insured lost of US$3. 4 billion. This is the worst offshore oil disaster. Not only does OPCAL lost the Piper Alpha platform, but the income that the platform generates every day. At the time of the disaster, the Piper Alpha platform produces 125,000barrels per day. The disaster led to insurance claims of around US$ 1. billion, making it at that time the largest insured man-made catastrophe (Bull, 2004). 6. Improvement and Prevention 6. 1 Design and Process There was a regulatory offshore installation control being implemented. The Offshore Installation Safety Case Regulations, a written document in which a company must demonstrate that an effective safety management (SMS) is in place on a particular offshore installation. Fire walls that can withstand explosion must be used instead of the normal fire walls to avoid explosion destroying the structure (Bull, 2004).

There should also be protection against and mitigation of fire on the platform itself. Relying on outside assistance like the fire brigade is just too ineffective. The disaster would not have occurred if the pump where work was being done had been positively isolated. Isolation is not achieved by shutting a valve but requires means such as insertion of a slip plate or removal of a pipe section. Emergency shutdown valves and backup valves are essential to cutting off fuel supply in case of fire, so there must always be one at multiple point of the platform and also easily accessible.

The temporary safety refuge (TSR) should have a breathable atmosphere and fire protection. Prevention of smoke ingress into TSR is available through smoke and gas detectors that initiate smoke dampers and prevent circulation of smoke throughout the TSR (Bull, 2004). More than one route to helicopters and lifeboats must be present at any given time to ensure evacuation of the platform in a crisis situation. To facilitate escape from a hazardous situation, luminescent strips and heat shielding provide visibility in smoke and protection from flames, respectively.

Secondary escapes such as ropes, ladders, and nets are also available as backup for the more sophisticated escape methods. 6. 2 Human Resources Throughout the disaster there were too many informal communications. Communications between shift change was also lacking. A Permit-to-Work system was introduced, it is a system of paperwork designed to promote communications between all parties affected by the maintenance procedure done on the platform (Bull, 2004). Other than that, management systems in the company must highly qualify.

Managers on Piper Alpha had minimal qualifications, which led to poor practices and ineffective audits, which should be avoided completely. To control such a system of high risk there should be someone who is highly qualified. Occidental Petroleum had regular safety audits of its facilities but they were not performed well. Few, if any, problems were ever brought up, even though there were serious issues with corrosion of deluge system pipes and heads and many other issues. When a major problem was found, it must be quickly attended. 6. 3 Safety and Health

The workers on the platform were not adequately trained in emergency procedures, and management was not trained to make up the gap and provide good leadership during a crisis situation. Proper safety training should be given to all workers before working on any offshore platforms. Routine body check-up should also be carried out to ensure all workers on board are fit for duty at all time. In case of any accident, any offshore platform should always provide gas masks or smoke dampers installed in the platform to avoid toxic gas being inhaled by workers.

To contain the oil spilled, facilities or standby ships must be ever ready to tackle any accident to minimize the damaged caused (Bull, 2004). 7. Conclusion The Piper Alpha disaster was clearly an accident of human errors. With a mixed of complacency and indifferent towards the needs for safety, there is no one to be blamed for that. It cost not only the company great losses but also the government and many innocent lives. On the other hand the accident caught enough attention to change a lot of regulations and attention towards safety at work, especially industry that involves dangerous working conditions such as oil and gas.

Any other countries and companies started to have a strict enforcement on safety at work. Structures and designs of platform give more possible backup plans in case of accident. Nevertheless, the working attitude of a worker is the most important to ensure safety at any time, for it is the altitude depends on attitude, not aptitude. 8. List of References Bull, D. C. 2004, A critical review of post Piper-Alpha developments in explosion science for the Offshore Industry, HSE publications, Norwich. Centre Of RSK 2001, Piper Alpha Accident [Online]. URL: http://www. smd. mul. ac. uk/risk/yearone/casestudies/piper-alpha. html Drysdale, D. D. ; Slyvester-Evans, R. 1998, ‘The explosion and Fire on the Piper Alpha Platform, 6 July 1988’, A case study, Technical Note, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 2929-2951. Fire And Blast Information Group 2011, Piper Alpha [Online]. URL: http://www. fabig. com/Accidents/Piper+Alpha. htm Heaney, M. 2007, Lessons Learnt From The Piper Alpha Disaster [Online]. URL: http://www. ecademy. com/node. php? id=80465 Learning from accidents, Kletz, T. , 3rd edition, Gulf Professional Publishing, 2001.

Lees’ Loss Prevention in the Process Industries: Hazard Identification, Assessment and Control, ed. Mannan, S. , 3rd edition, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005. Pate-Cornell, M. E. 1992, ‘A Post-mortem Analysis of Technical and Organizational Factors’, Learning From The Piper Alpha Accident, Technical Note, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 215-232. The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster, Cullen, The Honourable Lord, HM Stationery Office, 1990. Wikipedia 2011, Piper Alpha [Online]. URL: http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Piper_Alpha

Cite this page

Piper Alpha Case Studies. (2017, Dec 08). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-piper-alpha-case-studies-3420/

Piper Alpha Case Studies
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7