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Leak at BP platform in Norwegian North Sea could have caused major accident - PSA

29 April 2013

The Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA), Norway's oil safety watchdog, said BP must review the way it handles risk and maintenance at its offshore oil platforms in Norwegian waters following a leak at a North Sea platform last year that the PSA said could have caused a major accident. The platform was evacuated, but no one was injured in the incident.

The PSA said some 1,600 kilogrammes of gas and 125 barrels of oil leaked from a production platform on the Ula field in the Norwegian sector in September 2012.

"The incident had the potential to become a major accident, with the risk that a number of lives might have been lost and substantial material damage caused," the authority said on April 29.

The PSA said it was particularly concerned by the incident as BP had already been told to improve the way it handles maintenance at ageing platforms following a fire at the Valhall field in the North Sea in 2011.

The leak at Ula was caused by the fracturing of the bolts holding together a valve in a separator outlet. Production was shut for 67 days. 

Seepage in the valve exposed the bolts to produced water with a high content of chlorides and a temperature of about 120°C. This resulted in chloride stress corrosion cracking which weakened the bolts until they finally fractured.

"The investigation has identified a number of serious breaches of the regulations, related in part to BP's management system," the PSA said. "Deficiencies still exist in the maintenance system." The PSA has made administrative orders to BP relating to risk identification and management and has asked the UK-based major to review the measures it introduced after the Valhall incident.

BP said it was addressing the issues raised by the watchdog. "The findings closely match BP's own investigation and work has already started to address the issues raised and to fully comply with the orders by the end of 2013," a spokesman for BP Norway told Reuters.

Ula is estimated to hold 98.8 million barrels of recoverable oil reserves, according to data from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. BP owns 80% of the field and is the operator, with Denmark's DONG Energy holding the remaining 20%.

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