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Report says Israeli gas rig staff failed to comprehend seriousness of leak that could have caused “large loss of life”

07 September 2020

A new report published by Israel’s Energy Ministry says that staff working on an offshore natural gas rig failed to understand the seriousness of a gas leak in May which could have caused a “large loss of life” had it ignited. The investigative report into the Leviathan rig was ordered after a series of malfunctions occurred in the first few months after it began commercial operations in January 2020.

Leviathan rig - Image: Noble Energy
Leviathan rig - Image: Noble Energy

The Energy Ministry hired British engineering firm RPS to investigate the natural gas platform off Israel’s northern Mediterranean coast after more than 30 breakdowns happened in the rig’s first five months of operation, the Times of Israel reports.

The report says that the rig’s operator, Texas-based Noble Energy Mediterranean Ltd, had been inadequate in performing proper safety assessments and verification, as well as incident investigation and reporting. RPS’ report lists several recommendations for Noble to employ so that it can operate safely. 

Tests were conducted during June and July 2020 and the rig was inspected between June 22-24. The Leviathan platform began its commercial operations on January 1, 2020 and is located six miles (9.7km) off Caesarea in northern Israel.

The audit was conducted by the Petroleum Division of Israel’s Natural Resources Administration at the Ministry of Energy and with the participation of inspectors from RPS. The review focused on three topics: verification, incident investigation, and Functional Safety.

The report, published on August 31, found that operational verification was not being carried out on the rig – a major non-compliance with good oilfield practice. The report recommends that the rig implements a verification scheme and all its associated processes that clearly define and maintain the expected performance of safety critical elements.

In regard to incident investigation, the report raises concerns regarding event reporting, as well as the content and quality of the incident reporting. The recommendation is that the Leviathan rig undertake the actions necessary to improve the quality of the investigations and ensure that lessons are learnt from the investigated incidents.

RPS also found no evidence of direct compliance with IEC 61508, nor the associated process industry standard IEC 61511. This is a major non-conformance with Noble’s design performance standards; overall it is classed as a minor non-conformance with good oilfield practice. The report therefore recommends that Noble should carry out a stage 3 functional safety assessment, which incorporates the necessary elements of stage 1 and stage 2 functional safety assessments, to ensure alignment with the design performance standards.

Gas leak could have caused “large loss of life”

A key area for the investigation was the probing of a gas leak at the Leviathan rig that occurred on May 2. According to the Times of Israel, Energy Ministry experts who visited the offshore platform on May 5 were told by staff that the incident had not been important. However, a subsequent evaluation report by Noble found that the incident could have caused a “large loss of life” had it been ignited.

In its report, RPS said it agreed with the evaluation report and added that it was a matter of great concern that the potential severity of the leak was not apparent to Noble’s staff. RPS adds that at the time of writing the report, there was still no detailed investigation report into the gas leak.

RPS also had concerns with the event reports and the content and quality of the incident reporting. Staff are expected to fill out a “Five whys” report to understand the root causes of an incident, however RPS says that these tended to stop at “apparent causes” only rather than finding the root cause. 

Other issues raised by RPS include the failure to implement lessons learned from incident investigations into forward planning to prevent similar incidents reoccurring. RPS also said that the Leviathan rig’s management team did not appear to know much about functional safety standards and that certain safety assessments had not been carried out.

The report also found that staff on the rig were “almost completely unaware” of the need to check on-board equipment and systems were working properly and safely – a major non-compliance with international standards and good oilfield practice.

In a statement, Noble Energy Mediterranean Ltd said, “The Leviathan partners welcome the audit performed by the Ministry of Energy during the start-up phase of the Leviathan Production Platform. The audit was performed with full cooperation and complete transparency, as stated in the audit report. It is our intention to implement the report’s recommendations for improvements in accordance with the timelines set forth.”

Click here to read the full report into the Leviathan rig.


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