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UK oil rig safety check backlog

10 April 2012

According to a Reuters report, the North Sea's dwindling oil and gas reserves are pushing companies to tap unstable reservoirs at high pressure and extreme heat, while safety checks and maintenance are behind schedule. Citing a North Sea rig auditor, an engineer and a union official, the report claims Total’s problems with the gas leak at its Elgin platform reflects wider lapses across Britain's offshore industry.

Some North Sea rigs designed in the 1960s and 1970s are falling to pieces", according to the report
Some North Sea rigs designed in the 1960s and 1970s are falling to pieces", according to the report

"There is a worrying backlog of maintenance on safety-critical equipment, including release valves, pipelines and sub-sea fail-safe devices," said the auditor, an oil industry professional with more than a decade's experience of safety systems and procedures.

He said some North Sea rigs designed in the 1960s and 1970s were "falling to pieces" after exceeding their production lifespans, while more modern platforms were lagging well behind scheduled maintenance programmes.

Another source at a major oil company said safety still ranked high, but low gas prices - at about half their levels before the 2008 financial crisis - forced operators to weigh 'loss of life risks against loss of production risks.'

With rising operating costs and lower revenues, companies have put pressure on facilities to produce more fuel in order to break even, which means reducing the number of safety checks that could interrupt production.

The UK's offshore regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, has previously identified maintenance backlogs in successive asset integrity reviews, noting that maintenance on safety-critical equipment was especially poor.

According to the Reuters report, the HSE said there were about 70 major or significant hydrocarbon releases a year in the British part of the North Sea - "significant" meaning it could cause multiple fatalities and escalate further. Norway had just eight in 2010.

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