UpstreamOnline: Pressure rises on Shell

Under fire: Shell is feeling the heat over its Brent Bravo safety record

Calls mount for supermajor to explain poor safety record in UK North Sea after Health&Safety Executive reveals it was worst offender in play in two-and-a-half-year period

By Chris Hopson
Photo by Shell

Shell is under mounting pressure to explain its poor North Sea safety record after fresh revelations showed it has been by far the worst performer in the play, receiving six out of a total of 18 legal notices issued by the UK’s Health&Safety Executive (HSE) over a two-and-a-half year period.

An HSE list of the 18 incidents between March 2005 and October 2007, obtained by Upstream, shows that Shell received six notices covering five of its North Sea installations.

This is far more notices than any other operator working in the UK North Sea.

On Shell’s troubled Brent Bravo platform, the company was told in July 2006 that it had “failed to ensure the health and safety of your employees and others” by not ensuring that oil pipework was maintained in good repair. In February 2007, the HSE told Shell it had an “excessive backlog of maintenance activities for safety critical equipment” on its Clipper 48/19A platform in the Southern North Sea.

Shell told Upstream: “Over the past few years the number of enforcement notices that Shell has received from HSE are almost in direct proportion to the percentage of platforms that we operate in the North Sea.

“Obviously we are not satisfied with this position. However, over the last three years we have been running a $1.2 billion upgrade project to prepare our assets for the next phase of the North Sea.”

Shell added that there are many thousands of pieces of equipment on a platform classed as safety critical. “As with any piece of equipment, some of these will require maintenance from time to time,” Shell said.

“On our platforms we employ systems under which our people inspect and maintain safety critical equipment. Our goal is 100% compliance on planned corrective safety critical maintenance on all our platforms.”

The disclosures came following a Channel 4 News report on UK television about serious safety failings on Brent Bravo following an inspection of the platform carried out by the HSE in 2005.

The report, which formed part of the HSE’s KP3 findings, showed that maintenance of critical safety equipment was far below standard. The HSE found that fireproof doors in the workers’ temporary safe refuge may not have worked properly and corroded pipework was left untreated.

Overall corrective maintenance of safety critical equipment was found to be 36% against a target of 100%.

Also test results on an emergency shutdown valve that should have been marked as a fail were wrongly recorded as a pass.

Shell said it had investigated and was satisfied at no time did the technician dealing with the valve falsify test records.

“The test was recorded as a pass because to record a fail would automatically initiate corrective repairs that in this case were and are not required since the well is in a closed safe condition and has been since April 2003,” said the company

The HSE report also revealed that there were eight temporary repairs in the leg of the Brent Bravo platform that were found to be beyond their expiry date when the HSE inspection took place in mid-2005.

Jake Molloy, general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, said: “This beggars belief when you consider that it was a temporary repair which leaked causing the death of two men in September 2003.

“After all their assurances after these deaths, you then discover that some two years and two week later Shell were told by HSE they still had eight more temporary repairs past their sell by dates.”

Shell acknowledged the problems found by the HSE in 2005 but claimed these have now been addressed.

14 March 2008 00:02 GMT  | last updated: 14 March 2008 04:04 GMT