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RR672: Offshore hydrocarbon releases 2001-2008

The offshore industry employs about 28 000 personnel involved in a wide range of activities. Since the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, health and safety issues concerning offshore platforms have vastly reduced, however, the work practices involved are not risk free and still have the potential to cause considerable loss of life when things go wrong.

Increases in oil prices, declining reserves and an ageing infrastructure have resulted in increased drilling activity around marginal fields. Operators have looked for new ways in which to cut costs, which could affect the health and safety of the workforce.

HSE’s Major Hazards Strategic Programme Plan outlined targets that hope to reduce the number of major and significant releases from the 2001/02 baseline of 113 to 67 by the end of 2006/07 (10% year-on-year reduction) and to 60 by the end of 2007/08 (10% year-on-year reduction). However, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of major and significant hydrocarbon releases on offshore platforms that require investigation. This work hopes to identify the immediate cause of hydrocarbon leaks, and determine if there are discernable reasons for the increasing trends.

Two databases currently used by HSE when dealing with offshore releases were utilised, namely the Hydrocarbon Release (HCR) and RIDDOR databases. Cross-referencing between the two catalogues was expected to yield complete information including platform location, release size and type, as well as possible failure causes. When brought together over a range of different releases, this information can generate an overall picture of issues related to increasing release frequency.

Once an analysis had been completed, areas that require improvement, such as structural limitations, system and equipment faults as well as failings in procedural and operational methods, were indicated where possible.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19