Piper Alpha

3 March 2017

Abstract This research explains about The Disaster of Piper Alpha which occurred in the North Sea on 6 July 1988 which killed 167 people and cost billions dollars in property damage. This research report also examines about the objectives and the structures of the management of the Piper Alpha Oil Platform. This research is analyzed from both technical and organizational view. Besides that, this research report also discuss about the industrial processes and the operations of the platform. Moreover, the risk factors in all area which lead to the accident also have been explained in this research report.

The organizational factor includes the flaw in the guidelines and design practices. Besides that the organizational factors includes the management of the trade-off of productivity and safety. Moreover, it also includes the management of the staffs on board. The financial pressure applied in the production sector which leads to the negligence of inspections and maintenance operations. The consequences of the effects of the disaster of Piper Alpha are also discussed in this research report. For example, this report discusses about the effects to the investors of Piper Alpha and the effects to the environment.

This research report is also used to provide systematic way of identifying, the accident sequence which includes human errors and technical failure. Finally, this research report also explains the improvement strategies in the management systems to prevent the accident from occurring. 1. Introduction Piper Alpha platform was North Sea oil production platform which was operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd. The platform started its production in the year 1976. It first operates as an oil platform and then it was develop to gas production plant.

A large fixed, Piper Alpha was situated on the Piper oilfield, approximately 120 miles northeast of Aberdeen and comprised four modules separated by firewalls. For safety reasons the modules were organized so that the most dangerous operations were distant from the staff areas. The conversion from oil to gas in 1980 broke this safety concept, with the result that sensitive areas were brought together. For example, the gas compression area is next to the control room, which played a role in the blast.

Piper Alpha was one of the heaviest platforms operating in the North Sea at the time of the disaster in 1988. The Disaster of Piper Alpha occurred on 6th July 1988 caused by a gas leak and pumps failure which killed 167 people including two people from the rescue vessel and lost around 3. 4 billion US dollars. There were only 61 people survived from the accident. Besides that, more than 30 people couldn’t be discovered after the accident (Steve Duff,2006). This report briefly explains about the technical and organizational factors which leads the Disaster of Piper Alpha.

Besides that, it also discuss about consequences of the effect of the accident. Finally, it also discuss about the improvement and prevention step to avoid this type of accident to happen in future. 2. Management and Operation 2. 1 The management and its structure Four companies that later which have transformed into the OPCAL joint venture obtained an oil exploration license in 1972 and discovered the Piper Oilfield. The Piper Alpha was started on 1973 and its start operating on the year 1976. This oil platform and Flotta Oil platform was operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd.

Occidental Petroleum Corporation (OPCAL) is California based oil and gas exploration and production company. Occidental Petroleum Corporation is the largest oil and the natural gas producer in Texas (Lord Caplan,1997). The management structure of Piper Alpha Platform Figure 1: Management Structure of Piper Alpha Platform (Lord Caplan, 1997) The figure above shows the management structure of Piper Alpha platform. According to the organization structure, the highest post was held by the managing director of the OPCAL. The person who was holding this post was Mr Brading at the time of disaster.

Among all the workers working on the platform there was an ultimate responsible person who took overall control on the platform called the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM). Under the OIM, there were three departments. The first department was Maintenance of Equipment Department. The hierarchy of this department is Superintendent, Deputy Maintenance Superintendent, and Lead Maintenance Hand. The technicians below the Lead Maintenance Hand are the Maintenance Technicians and other relevant staff such as electricians. Besides that, the second department under the OIM was safety department.

The hierarchy of the safety department is Safety Supervisor, Lead Safety Supervisor, followed by the OPCAL’S safety operators and the Contractor’s safety operator. The most significant department under the OIM was Production personnel apart from safety they would take over if anything went wrong on the platform. Most of them were OPCAL’s own employees. Under the OIM there was an Operations Superintendent, a Deputy Operation Superintendent, Lead Production Operators and the actual Operators. There were also many employees of the various contractors on the platform under the supervision of the permanent production staff.

The objective of this Piper Alpha is to produce and process crude oil and gas (Lord Caplan,1997) 3. Industrial Processes 3. 1 Operation Functions The oil production was started in 1976 with about 250,000 barrels of oil per day. Later on, it was increased to 300,000 barrels per day. In the year 1980, a gas recovery module was installed. By 1988, the production has to into half which is 125,000 barrels per day. Then, OPCAL built the Flotta Oil Terminal in the Orkney Island receive and process oil from the fields Piper, Claymore and Tartan.

A main pipeline ran from 128 miles from Piper Alpha to Flotta, with a short oil pipeline from the Claymore platform to west. The main purpose of the plant is to produce crude oil and natural gas from 24 wells to deliver oil to Flotta terminal and to other installations which is Tartan and Claymore by three different pipelines. A short pipeline was joint with the pipeline of Flotta within the range of 20 miles way from Claymore. The Tartan field also runs oil to Claymore and then runs to Flotta through the main pipeline. A gas pipeline runs from Piper Alpha to Tartan.

It runs from Piper Alpha to gas compressing platform MCP-01, 30 miles away to the Northwest. Piper Alpha had four transport risers in total. They are, an export oil riser, the Claymore gas riser, the Tartan gas riser and the Flotta gas riser (Risk Analysis, vol 5, No. 4, pg 277-288). Figure 2: Illustration of Piper Alpha’s Oil and Gas Risers Subsea Pipelines (Willie Scott, 2011) The 84-foot level consisted of four modules A, B, C and D. A, B and C were the main production modules. Module D was the generation and utilities module. These modules as with other structural equipment had all been fabricated onshore.

The next main level up was the 107-foot level which housed the Mud Module and Storage Module on the west, and the Gas Conservation Module (also known as the GCM or Phase 2 Module) and Utilities module on the east. The 133-foot level contained the pipe deck and the 174-foot level the helideck. The accommodation modules were at the north end of the platform and were at levels ranging from 121 feet to 174 feet (Lord Caplan,1997). 4. Causes of Accident 4. 1 Human Factors One of the human factors that contribute this disaster is lack of safety training of the staffs inside the platform.

Less experienced maintenance crew, personnel, operators and production workers were allowed to run Piper Alpha at a time when high-level activity should have required special care, attention, and the ability to recognize abnormal signs in order to diagnose and fix problems immediately. Besides that, less inspection of the equipment by the maintenance technicians is also a contributing factor for this disaster (Elisabeth patte-cornell, October 1991) 4. 2 Design and Process Factors There was controversy about the disaster. The controversy about whether there was sufficient time for more effective emergency evacuation.

This is because; the second explosion occurs 20 minutes after the first explosion but many people couldn’t escape from the second explosion. The main problem was that most of the personnel who had the authority to order evacuation had been killed in the first explosion which destroyed the control room. This was a consequence of the platform design, which includes the absence of the blast walls (Kletz, T. ,2001). Another contributing factor, the nearby platform continues pumping oil and gas to Piper Alpha until its pipeline damaged in the heat in the second explosion.

Even though after the first blast, the nearby platforms continue pumping oil and gas to Piper Alpha. Besides that, on the morning of the day of the incident, some backup propane condensate pumps in the processing area need to have its pressure safety valve check. But the work could not be complete by 6pm and the work was postponed to the next day. The tube was sealed with a plate. Later in the evening during the next shift, the primary condensate pump failed. The gas products escaped from the valve. Finally, the gas audibly leaked out at high pressure, ignited and exploded, blowing through the fire walls.

Moreover, the automatic deluge system was designed to spray water to put out the fire was never activated because it had been turned off. In addition, the accommodations were also not smoke-proved. This contributes to the death of personnel inside the accommodation area. Moreover, the poor design of the emergency equipment also contributes to this disaster. When the first blast occurs, the general alarm system and the emergency lighting failed to work. The design of the platform is also a factor of this disaster. Initially, the platform was not designed for severe loads (Mannan, S,2001). . 3 External Factors The external factor of the Disaster of Piper Alpha is the organization factor. One the reason is because the management of OPCAL didn’t supervise the recruitment of the worker on board. Hence, some workers on board have less experience and knowledge in crude oil production. Besides that, the management didn’t provide safety training for most of the workers in the platform. Moreover, the death of the OIM is also a factor of the death of the personnel on board. This is because; the OIM is the person who gives order to evacuate when emergency.

Therefore, most of the personnel could not make decision to evacuate when the incident happens (Lord Caplen,1997). 5. Consequences of the effects of the accident 5. 1 Health After the incident of Piper Alpha took place, a researcher has conducted a study into the long-term psychological and social effects of the Piper Alpha disaster. Finally, he manage to find thirty-six survivors who agreed to give interviews. Almost all of them reported psychological problem. More than 70% of those interviewed have psychological and behavioral symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

The family members of the dead and survived victims also were reported to have psychological and social problems (Hull AM, Alexander DA, and Klein S. ,2001). 5. 2 Environmental and ecology Some documents showed that highly-toxic chemical that fell into the North Sea after the explosion destroyed the oil platform by killing 167 men would not have burned up as had been claimed by OPCAL. In addition, 5. 5 tonnes of the cooling fluid, polychlorinated bithenyl (PCB) which contain in equipment called the transformers was also destroyed during the fire. This would contribute a massive to the marine life.

For example, the death of marine species. Besides that, the fish caught near the platform found to be chemical contaminated. Moreover, the release of Carbon monoxide (CO) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) to the air also results acid rain at some area nearby the platform (Nicola Reeves, 1991). 5. 3 Damage cost and Compensation cost The damage cost of the disaster of Piper Alpha is calculated to be around three billion US Dollars. Besides that, this disaster results in an overall reduction in insurance capacity in London. Besides that, the compensation cost of the disaster cost was around 1. billion US Dollars (Nicola Reeves, 1991). 6. Improvement and Prevention 6. 1 Design and Process As an improvement steps for a platform to avoid from disaster like Piper Alpha, a regulatory control of offshore should be implemented. An offshore installation (Safety Case) regulation is a written document where a company must demonstrate that an effective safety management system (SMS) is in place on the particular offshore installation. Then, the implementation of this handed over to the HSE in 1991. As a recovery of this incident, regulatory control of offshore installation has been introduced in the year 1991.

Besides that, the need of safety training for the staff is given more importance. Moreover proper isolation plant is formed when a platform undergoes maintenance process. The disaster would not have occurred if the pump where work was being done had been positively isolated. Isolation is not achieved by shutting a valve but it requires the insertion of a slip plate or removal of a pipe section. Disabling of protective equipment by explosion would be one of the prevention steps from this disaster to happen. The firewalls on the Piper Alpha could have stopped the spread of fire. However, they were not built to withstand an explosion.

The initial blast blew the firewalls down, and the subsequent fire spread could not be stopped (Kletz T. 2001). Besides that, the inventory should be limited on installation and in pipelines. The large inventory of the pipelines connected to the platform fed the fire. Other than technical problems, it should be a design objective to reduce the amount of hydrocarbon. In addition, emergency shutdown valves should be located in platform to prevent this type of disaster. Proper location of emergency shutdown valves and backup valves are essential to cutting off fuel supply in case of fire.

Above water positioning provides testing accessibility for vigilant maintenance. Moreover, the use of wind tunnel test and explosion simulations in design could prevent the spread of fire. Wind tunnels are useful to assess the effectiveness of the ventilation and the gas detection system. The explosion simulations help to investigate effect of different layouts an explosion ans assess the effectiveness of blast walls (Kletz T,2001). 6. 2 Human resource Proper training should be given to staff in the platform by the management. For example, fire and explosion protection training should be given to employees.

This is because, fire fighting are particular importance as there is no possibility to rely on outside assistance, such as the fire brigade. Besides that, proper recruitment process should be carried out to prevent this type of disaster. For example, highly experience maintenance staff could have sealed the pipeline in a proper way. Thus, the incident would not have occurred. 6. 3 Safety and Health For safety,, more than one route to helicopters and life boats must be present at any given time to ensure evacuation of the platform in crisis situation.

Besides that, luminescent strips and heat shielding provide visibility in smoke and protection from flames. In addition, secondary escapes such as ropes, ladders and nets also should be provided as backup for the more sophisticated escape method (Mannan S. 2005). Conclusion Many of the events that led to the Piper Alpha accident were rooted in the culture, the structure, and the procedures of OPCAL. Safety management systems and associated safety cases can make a big difference. The systematic approach means that the hazards of the business are known, understood and demonstrably controlled.

http://www. aiche. org/uploadedfiles/CCPS/resources/knowledgebase/Piper_Alpha. pdf


http://www. hse. gov. uk/research//rrpdf/rr089. pdf


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