ConocoPhillips Fined $4.3 Million for Offshore Rig Gas Releases

"There was a failure to identify the risk posed by the high-pressure vent systems when carrying out intrusive maintenance work. ConocoPhillips failed to put in place appropriate process isolations to isolate the high-pressure vent from the work site," said HSE Inspector John Hawkins. "It is only a matter of good fortune these incidents didn't result in a serious, tragic incident."

Enforcement action triggered by three gas releases on ConocoPhillips (UK) Ltd's Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System, a natural gas platform off the Lincolnshire coast, has resulted in a $4.3 million fine against the energy company, Britain's Health and Safety Executive announced Feb. 8. The releases -- two were uncontrolled and the third one was controlled but unexpected, according to the agency -- occurred between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2012.

The facility is 70 miles off the Lincolnshire coast and consists of five linked platforms. It has its own wells and collects natural gas from other gas platforms in the southern North Sea and pipes it to the onshore Theddlethorpe gas terminal.

HSE reported that its investigation found the Nov. 30 releases resulted from maintenance work to replace a gas pressure control valve on one of three gas turbines used to generate electricity for the installation; the fuel gas pressure safety valve and a flexible hose had to be removed in order to do the work. "Releases of gas occurred as a result of a number of deficiencies in isolation and planning, allowing gas to come out of an open ended pipe connected to the high pressure vent system. Breakdowns in communications across the five platforms of LOGGS also meant some workers incorrectly believed the platform was gas-free, putting the lives of up to 66 workers on board in danger if an ignition occurred," the agency reported. "A loss of electrical power made management of the emergency more difficult. Workers sent to investigate were put at extreme risk of death or serious injury as ignition of the gas would’ve resulted in an explosion. It is estimated around 603 kg of produced hydrocarbon gas was released into the Turbine Hall during this incident."

A Dec. 1 release occurred after batteries ran down, and in this case, the isolation valve was closed in time, preventing gas form accumulating in the turbine hall, which would have put workers at risk.

HSE served ConocoPhillips (UK) Ltd with a Prohibition Notice on Dec. 13, 2012, for failing to control the gas releases. The company later confirmed it had modified the LOGGS incident command system to prevent such releases.

ConocoPhillips (UK) Ltd has pleaded guilty to three breaches of the Offshore Installations (Prevention of Fire and Explosion, and Emergency Response) Regulations 1995. It was fined £3,000,000 (£1m for each offense) and ordered to pay costs of £159,459.

"There was a failure to identify the risk posed by the high-pressure vent systems when carrying out intrusive maintenance work. ConocoPhillips failed to put in place appropriate process isolations to isolate the high-pressure vent from the work site," said HSE Inspector John Hawkins. "An assessment of the full extent of the maintenance intervention work was not carried out and the full isolations required were not identified. Our investigations indicate there was a deviation from following procedures fully. The underlying cause of the incident was the inadequate implementation, control, and oversight of the permit to work system, and the common isolation procedure. It is only a matter of good fortune these incidents didn't result in a serious, tragic incident."

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