North Sea rig leak ‘went undetected for 90 minutes’

The Kittiwake platform, which is 160km east of Aberdeen, suffered an earlier major oil leak in 2008. Picture: Charlie Fawell
The Kittiwake platform, which is 160km east of Aberdeen, suffered an earlier major oil leak in 2008. Picture: Charlie Fawell
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A MAJOR gas leak on a North Sea platform went undetected for almost an hour and a half after safety systems failed, a report has revealed.

Workers on the Kittiwake installation raised the alarm after smelling gas on 20 March.

Your flammable gas detection system failed

Health and Safety Executive

The platform’s detection system failed to pick up the leak caused by a fracture to a stainless steel pipe.

In total, 1,670kg of gas escaped from the pipe over the course of 84 minutes from the platform which is located 160km east of Aberdeen.

It is understood the gas had been dispersing as it was emitted and this is why it failed to alert either the platform detection system or the workers’ personal alarms.

An improvement notice has now been issued by Health and Safety Executive to the platform’s operator Petrofac with a warning to ensure the leak does not happen again.

A notice posted on the HSE site reads: “You failed to take appropriate measures to detect an accumulation of gas following a major release on Kittiwake platform. Your current estimate of the release is 1,670 kg.

“Your flammable gas detection system failed to detect the gas release in the early hours of 20th March 2015 over a period you estimate to be 84 minutes. One of your employees was able to detect the release by sense of smell.”

The firm has said it accepted the executive’s recommendations and was working on implementing improvements.

A Petrofac spokesman said: “Safety is our number-one priority and we take any occurrence of this kind extremely seriously.

“We fully accept the HSE’s recommendations and are working in conjunction with them to further develop and strengthen our small-bore pipe work management and fire and gas detection systems.”

Petrofac has until 30 September to comply with the improvement order. The company is the “duty holder” on the Kittiwake platform, while EnQuest is the operator.

In 2008, production on the platform was halted following the detection of a major oil leak. At the time the platform was producing 16,000 barrels of oil a day.

The Kittiwake field was first discovered in 1981 and production began in 1990. It reached a peak of almost 40,000 barrels a day in 1994.

In recent years, the largest leak took place on the Total Elgin platform, about 150 miles off Aberdeen, in March 2012.

The leak was stopped following an operation which pumped heavy mud and cement into the underwater well. At the height of the incident, about 200,000 cubic metres of gas was escaping every day and caused Total to lose £83 million of potential income.

The Piper Alpha explosion off Aberdeen, in July 1988, was the world’s worst offshore oil disaster, killing 167 out of 228 
workers.