If something cannot be measured, then it cannot be controlled. This very principle is driving the operation of the entire world upstream sector, a senior manager of the leading oil & gas company said in one of his speeches on safety issues. This approach has become even more urgent after the accident at the Deepwater Horizon platform on the Macondo field, which happened in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico at the water depth of 1,500 meters. 11 oilmen died in that accident, which caused the largest man-made catastrophe in the US history as 5 million barrels of oil spilled in the ocean. The well on the field was shut down just after 4 months by drilling of two relief wells and injection of special cement slurry into the holes of two wells. All that time, to the credit of bp company, which is responsible for the accident at most, several American TV channels broadcast online all underwater works, and mitigation of the consequences developed into a national operation to rescue all living beings and nature. In 2013 the Federal Court in New Orleans took a decision to recognise bp mainly responsible for the accident, but enacted contractors Halliburton and Transocean to undertake a part of payments to redress the damage caused. Just over 5 years passed after the accident, but it was enough for the “Macondo effect” to come into being and to change the whole concept of offshore and deepwater development. Because of the moratorium on offshore drilling imposed by the US government, such companies as Statoil, Anadarko Petroleum, and Cobalt International suffered losses. And limits were imposed on the depth of drilling.
Former European Commissioner for Energy Günther Oettinger proposed to suspend offshore drilling off the coast of the European Union to clarify all the circumstances of the man-made disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In September 2015, Shell decided to leave all exploration projects in Alaska and not because the company has not discovered hydrocarbons there since it is a common practice for drillers. Sometimes the exploration period lasts on average 3-4 years. The US regulator demanded from Shell to erect a containment dome in the Chukchi Sea like that at Macondo and even bring a stand-by drilling rig to be able to drill additional wells to release pressure in the first one if any blowout occurs. Also a fleet of ships was involved to drill one well, writes Bloomberg.
Shell met all requirements, but the full-scale exploration program on this area failed to be cost effective. After this, U.S. Department of the Interior decided to cancel plans for further drilling in the Arctic waters. Prior to that, the US government virtually abandoned the development of offshore oil production in the Arctic by turning down a tender for two blocks in the Chukchi Sea and the Beaufort Sea to be held in 2016 or 2017. And if the US government refuses from a further development of the Arctic shelf, it will be a direct result of the “Macondo effect”.
The accident on the Alexander L. Kielland platform (1980) took place in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea on March 27, 1980. The crack in one of bracings collapsed one of the legs. After 20 minutes the platform capsized. Possible cause: fatigue design. Only 89 of 212 crew members were rescued.
The accident on the Piper Alpha platform (1988) in the British sector of the North Sea took place on 6 July 1988. The integrated gas platform was completely destroyed in the explosion of natural gas and the ensuing fire killed 167 people. At the time of the accident there were 232 workers on the platform. The response to these disasters was the improvement of the safety system as outlined in the scheme of German Wintershall “Eight-stage barrier safety system”.
In the oil and gas industry features many examples where lessons were learnt from the happened, so double bottom tankers came into use after the disaster with the Exxon Valdez tanker in 1989.
At 17.40 on December 4, 2015 the giant 9-10 meters high waves (wind speed made 38-40m/s) broke the supporting pipe of an underwater gas pipeline working under pressure of 110 atmospheres on platform No 10 at the shallow water part of the Gunashli field, says a joint statement of SOCAR, the Ministry of Emergency Situations and Prosecutor General's Office, Caspian Energy News (www.caspianenergy.net) reports.
According to the statement, this damaged the gas pipeline and caused a strong fire. In order to prevent possible implications, all oil and gas communication systems leading to the deepwater offshore platform No 10 were blocked, and operation of 28 oil and gas wells on the platform was suspended. But the fire still continues on the four gas wells.
In line with the instructions and the evacuation plan, in order to escape from fire and potential explosion, the workers got aboard the two rescue boats available on the platform and lowered them into the sea. The boats were lowered to about 10 meters above the sea. In 15-25 minutes following the accident fire boat Vikhr-9 of the Ministry of Emergency Situations which was on duty at the Gunashli field and later the fire boat Vikhr-5, diving ship Avior and towboat Samir Guliyev sailed to the platform and started the operation right away. The vessels ‘Topaz-Dignizi’, ‘Endevour’, ‘Protector’ and’ Lankaran’ equipped with the advanced navigation system, which were on duty at Azeri-Chyrag-Gunashli fields, were also involved into the fire extinguishing and rescue works.
But as the windstorm intensified and the waves practically reached 9-10 meters in height, none of the vessels could tie up at the platform. This made launch of the rescue boats into the sea and their towing by the vessels impossible, also complicated the uninterruptable intake of water for extinguishing the fire. At about 22.45 due to strong wind and high waves, a hook of one of the rescue boats opened up and the boat with people on board fell into the sea. With the help of the ships that were around there, 3 workers were rescued and 1 corpse was extracted from the sea.
Later one of the Emergency Ministry rescuers' groups approached the platform aboard a helicopter belonging to Azal and another aboard vessel 'Muslim Magomayev' belonging to the Azerbaijan State Caspian Sea Shipping, evacuated 26 people from the boat and 3 people from the platform and delivered them to the ship. Thus, 32 people were evacuated and a corpse was extracted from the sea.
The Investigation Department on Grave Crimes under the Prosecutor General's Office instituted a criminal proceeding into the fact in line with article 225.2 (Violation of the rules of fire safety, causing heavy implications) of the Criminal Code. A crime scene investigation team composed of the representatives of the Prosecutor General's Office, Ministries of Emergency Situations, Internal Affairs and National Security was created in this respect.
A State Commission was created by the order of the President of Azerbaijan in connection with the accident. Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Artur Rasizade was appointed a commission chairman.
The accident at the Gunashli overshadowed the emergency case at the Neft Dashlary field (Oil Rocks), where living quarters with three oilmen was washed overboard. Thus, storm and technical unreadiness claimed 33 lives.
For SOCAR this is the second and together with the Neft Dashlary the third (officially announced by the company) serious accident at drilling sites over the last two years.
In August 2013 a gas blowout occurred in the process of drilling at the depth of 5,858 m at the exploration well #90 located in the northeast part of the Bulla Deniz field. It caused an uncontrolled release of methane, resulting in a fire at the well, which lasted more than 10 days. According to the company, the cause of the accident was the high pressure that emerged while bypassing the producing formation in the eighth horizon.
The competent committee will sort out all the details - why the accident happened on this very platform rather than on 10 other ones located at the Gunashli field, what “special” bracings for gas pipelines were on the platform and why the so-called rescue boat failed to withstand and broke up through designed to pass without losses through gushers, fire on a sea surface and gas emissions and according to international standards it had to be able to withstand (like all safety equipment) ocean gusts up to 160 km/h. It means it the boat had to outride heavy wind - up to 144 km/h (40 m/c) as it was in the case with Gunashli. Which company produced this rescue capsule, where it was tested and certified? Why did not the platform crew get into the boat on the leeward side - in the direction of the waves to enable the boat to go to the open sea instead of beating against the platform? Did the platform design enable to carry out extreme evacuation of people in case of a gas explosion? Why does the evacuation system, applied in the North Sea, enable to withstand hurricane winds and 11-17-meter-high waves, but cannot outride 8-10-meter high waves in the Caspian Sea? Surprises the position that makes “the wind guilty of everything”, through any person, who lived in the Caspian for even a short period of time, knows that heavy storms are customary for the Caspian Sea. During storms even the State Flag is not hoisted at the Flag Square, pleasure boats do not leave the harbor, and bulk carriers are secured in roadstead in Baku. The area also features frequent earthquakes with intensity sometimes reaching 7-8 points.
Why did the hooks fail to keep not fully loaded rescue board (with the declared capacity of 42 people? Why did the oilmen happened to be in winter in cold water during the “unprecedented” storm forecasted by the weather service without protective suits, which enable to stay in the sea at close to zero temperature up to 4 hours until help arrives? After all, everybody who knows the features of offshore production is well aware that without special suits death occurs in few minutes as a result of sharp hypothermia due to the high thermal conductivity properties of water (25-26 times higher than that of the air environment).
The State Commission established by President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev will investigate what went wrong on the platform #10 and whether the company will change the information policy, because openness enhances of responsibility, which in turn boosts security. However, even today on the basis of what has been said by the official agencies and according to the information of oilmen oil can suggest that the State Oil Company, like other oil companies after such accidents, will have to learn a systemic lesson and change the approach to the system and internal safety behaviour. And nobody but the company itself can do it because each company individually develops its exclusive internal preventive safety, relying on modern safety standards and its own experience, and also it is up to a company to manage risks. Perhaps, the head of state will establish a special body to prevent and ensure safety of oil and gas operations in the Caspian Sea and this body will tighten the rules and regulate responsibility of both the state-owned company and foreign operators and their cooperation. For example, there are three regulatory bodies in the United States: the one on operations safety, the second one on environmental protection and the third one is the Coast Guard. However, given the gravity and tragic nature of the last accident on the platform #10, the State Oil Company should learn a systemic lesson and ensure a high safety of each employee as practiced in all world’s leading companies.
President and Editor-in-Chief of the Caspian Energy International Media Group