Brae Alpha: A gas leak or a blast?
On December 29th, 2015, Offshore Energy Today informed about a gas leak that occurred aboard Marathon Oil’s Brae Alpha production platform in the UK North Sea.
While this was confirmed as a leak to us by Marathon Oil, Oil and Gas People, a job site for the oil and gas industry, has a different side of the story, where a gas leak might have been a blast, actually.
Below is a story titled “Operator Stays Silent Over Major Gas Blast on North Sea Platform” published Monday by Oil and Gas People.
“Many people have contacted Oil and Gas People over the past two weeks looking for more information on the gas blast we reported on Marathon’s Brae Alpha platform that happened on Boxing Day. For over two weeks now Oil and Gas People has been trying to get more information out of the operator and the offshore regulator but with very little success.
Although the incident happened on Boxing Day it was only three days later that the press first got wind of an event. Initially reported as a ‘gas leak’ Oil and Gas People’s sources offshore quickly alerted us to the fact that it was a much more substantial event. A clever play on words by both the operator and the regulator seemed to be an attempt to play down the incident. A spokesman for the HSE Executive would only confirm that they were investigating a reported gas leak and would not elaborate any further.
However Oil and Gas People is aware that it is a requirement under the RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations 2013) to report any unintentional gas leak or release of Hydrocarbons. The requirement does not differentiate between a blast and a leak so other media outlets automatically reporting the incident as a ‘leak’ were more than a little misguided. When asked to clarify whether it was a blast or a leak the spokesman for the
HSE said: “We do not have the time to give a running commentary on every incident, we are investigating a reported gas leak and will not prejudice a criminal investigation by commenting further.”
Oil and Gas People reported on the 29th of December how a complete module on the platform was left looking like a bombsite after the gas blast, which activated 42 different gas detectors and how only luck had prevented the gas escape finding an ignition source, leading to a potential disaster.
When pressed once again for a statement on the incident a spokesman for Marathon Oil would only confirm that their previous statement issued at the end of December was still current: “We are conducting a comprehensive investigation and will be assessing all necessary work to safely resume platform operations. It would be premature to comment further while an investigation is underway.”
Over two weeks after the incident Marathons Brae Alpha platform remains shutdown in the North Sea with no indication as to when operations will continue.
“We are unable to confirm but Marathon has also not denied our reports that a faulty pump lead to the incident on the 26th of December. The platform had only a few weeks before been issued with an improvement notice from the HSE Executive for maintenance failures, “Oil and Gas People said
RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said that it could have been a serious incident if there had been an ignition source near the gas.
He said that the incident would lend itself to arguments against making cuts to jobs and extending staff hours in the wake of slumped oil prices.
Mr Molloy said: “It sounds quite serious. The initial feedback was that they were very lucky there was no ignition source.
“We will have to wait for the investigation but I think the inevitable response from the workforce will be along the lines of what we are seeing, which is that cuts don’t work. Cutting staff, extending hours and an increasing maintenance backlog does not work.”
“At a time when cost cutting offshore is leading to reports of maintenance failures and the increased potential of incidents, Oil and Gas People is relying on information coming from people offshore on these platforms to prevent incidents like this being kept out of the media spotlight,” Oil and Gas People said.