Shell safety record in North
Sea takes a hammering
· Oil group given repeated
warnings about rigs
· Critics fear neglect as end of
commercial life nears
Monday March 5, 2007
Shell has been repeatedly warned by the Health and Safety
Executive about the poor state of its North Sea
platforms, according to information
obtained by the Guardian.
The company's dismal record undermines Shell's public
commitment to improve its performance after a fatal explosion on the Brent
field in the North Sea in 2003 and raises further concerns about Britain's
ageing oil and gas equipment.
As recently as November 13, Shell - one of Britain's
largest companies - was served with a rebuke and a legal notice that it was
failing to operate safely.
"Shell have failed to implement
a suitably resourced maintenance regime to achieve compliance with their
maintenance strategy. This has led to an excessive backlog of maintenance
activities for safety critical equipment," says the HSE's improvement
notice number 300463514, covering the Clipper 48 platform in the southern North Sea.
Critics fear that some of the long-established oil
infrastructure in the North Sea is being
neglected because it is coming to the end of its commercial life.
Shell was served with a similar notice, on September 1,
about the state of facilities on the Leman A platform in the central North Sea. The HSE notice 300331067, said: "Lifting
equipment was not being adequately maintained through the rigging loft. The AK
gantry cranes were inadequately maintained. On-site control of lifting
operations was seen to be inadequate." And on July 27 last year, Shell was
told by the North Sea safety regulator it had "failed to ensure the health
and safety of your employees and others by failing to ensure that the 12-inch
oil export pipework P-137-1106Y, so far as is reasonably practicable, has been
maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order, and in good
repair." This notice - 300319346 - is particularly damaging because it
relates to a platform on the large Brent field.
Just eight days before this notice was served, an Aberdeen sheriff's court
had ruled in a fatal accident inquiry that Shell could have prevented the two
deaths if it had properly repaired a hole in a corroding pipe on a Brent
platform. Shell had earlier admitted responsibility for this accident but on
the day of the sheriff's report, the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee
complained that the Brent Bravo platform still had leaks, dangerous stairs, and
lifts left broken for six months.
Last summer Shell insisted it was in the middle of a $1bn
(£515m) programme to upgrade its platforms, saying: "Safety is and will
remain our first priority."
But the HSE website shows Shell was issued with 10
improvement notices during 2006, although one referred to an onshore facility
at St Fergus in Scotland.
Notices are served where the HSE considers a company is operating unlawfully
with unacceptable risks, according to industry experts. The regulator's website
suggests that Shell has been served with 42 notices since 1999, while BP, a
company of similar size, has received 25. From 2002 to the end of last year
among other North Sea operators, Total had
been served with four notices, Chevron one and Amerada Hess two. Despite these
high numbers, a Shell spokesman said at the weekend the company had been
working hard and successfully to improve its track record. "Improving our
performance is an important priority and we have set ourselves tough targets to
do this," he said.
Sources close to the company denied that Shell's record was
worse than others. There had been a sixfold decrease in "total reportable
case [accident] frequency" between 1999 and 2006, added the source. Last
year, Shell was embarrassed when Bill Campbell, one of its senior safety
consultants, claimed the company was operating a weak safety regime and said
some employees had been falsifying documents. Shell denied the charges, but Mr
Campbell has been threatening the company with a defamation case.
North Sea operators are investing less in
offshore oil platforms at a time when production is falling much faster than
expected, according to a recent report from the UK Offshore Operators
Association. As the North Sea nears the end of
its natural life as an oil province, many large groups are looking for much
bigger finds elsewhere. North Sea production
fell 9% to 2.9m barrels of oil equivalent last year and UKOOA expects it to be
250,000 barrels lower on average over the remainder of the decade. UKOOA is
also predicting investment will fall to as little as £4bn this year compared
with £5.6bn last year, at a time when costs are rocketing due to equipment