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Dealing With Unexploded Ordnance Threats in Offshore Environments

Author : Mr David Welch, MIExpE, Ramora UK

20 November 2011

The world’s economy depends on offshore oil and gas platforms. Which means we have to face up to the fact that they represent ‘spectacular’ targets for any terrorist or criminal group that wants to make an impact or simply extort money. That is the nature of the world we live in as David Welch explains further...

Ordnance explosion
Ordnance explosion

As a global provider of EOD services and specialists in dealing with UXO and other explosive threats, we are only too aware of these ever-present threats. And we are equally aware of the explosive hazards that still linger from past conflicts. In many parts of the world, explosive remnants of war can render both the siting and the operation of offshore installations dangerously problematic.  

How can the industry best deal with this double threat? In our view, there has to be, at the very least, a twin track approach that combines both training for all potentially affected personnel and, in the event of an emergency, access to a professional response service that can provide experts equipped with the latest technology.

By their very nature, offshore installations are almost impossible to secure in the way that one can protect a land-based facility. And this in itself places a higher emphasis on the need for the appropriate training of staff. As in all other areas of life, prevention is better than cure and the first step in guarding offshore installations against malicious explosive threats has to be some form of terrorist threat awareness training delivered by skilled trainers who have a first-hand understanding of the issues.

But, of course, no amount of awareness training can provide a 100% guarantee that UXO or IED’s will not be encountered on an offshore installation. In the specific case of ERoW, the danger may already be there. And for that reason, terrorist threat awareness training must be complemented with appropriate UXO scenario training. Indeed, it should be pointed out that under the terms of the Health and Safety at Work Act, all employers subject to UK legislation whose operations include areas where UXO might be discovered (which obviously includes oil and gas platforms) are obliged by law to take action to mitigate that specific risk to their employees. Properly accredited training is typically an essential part of meeting those legal requirements.

Bomb Disposal
Bomb Disposal

To be effective, UXO scenario training must include a mix a theory and practice. Participants must emerge from the training with a very real sense of what they should do in the event of discovering UXO. The training has to have ‘real life’ credibility across all aspects of incident management. Giving the right answers in a classroom is very different to doing the right thing, making the right decisions, when the actual situation arises.

So there can be no doubt that when it comes to UXO threats to offshore installations and infrastructure in areas of conflict, the right training is of paramount importance in ensuring that any risk to life and to the integrity of the installation itself is minimised. 

But training, whilst vital to minimising risk, can’t provide the ultimate answer. When UXO is encountered, there has to be a specialist intervention. 

The news that reaches us, with tragic regularity, from conflict zones around the world can have left nobody in any doubt about the risks associated with making safe any kind of explosive device.  Operating in an offshore environment can add a whole new layer of complexity. Removing everyone to a safe distance and detonating the item simply isn’t an option when the UXO is under a platform or adjacent to a pipeline. 

Unexploded Ordnance
Unexploded Ordnance

When UXO are discovered in an offshore environment, there is an urgent need to make instant contact with an expert who can advise on the severity of the situation and the best course of action to take. And wherever necessary, a call to an Emergency Response Centre can be all that is required to trigger the dispatch of specialist personnel to manage the situation. 

Terrorist and criminal threats can’t be wished away. Nor can the explosive detritus of previous conflicts. Somehow, the oil and gas industry has to find ways to deal with those hazards and minimise the risks to human life and capital infrastructure. And in our view, based on our international experience of EOD and of the commercial realities of the offshore industry, the solution has to involve both the training of offshore industry personnel and the commercially available - instantly available - expertise of disposal experts.  

Dealing with unexploded ordnance threats safely, in offshore environments isn’t easy. But it is possible.

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