Marathon fined for gas blast on North Sea platform

Oil and gas company Marathon Oil UK has been fined £1.16 million ($1.5 million) following an HSE investigation into a high-pressure gas release on its Brae Alpha offshore platform in the North Sea on Boxing Day 2015.

Brae Alpha; Source: Marathon

HSE is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. According to its statement on Monday, Aberdeen Sherriff Court heard that on December 26, 2015, an eight-inch diameter high-pressure pipework in Module 14 of the platform suffered a catastrophic rupture as a result of ‘Corrosion Under Insulation’ (CUI), allowing over two tonnes of high-pressure methane gas to be released almost instantaneously.

The force of the high-pressure blast caused significant and widespread damage within Module 14. The incident occurred whilst most of the 100 personnel on the platform were gathered in the accommodation block, in readiness for their Boxing Day meal, and away from the source of the blast.

An investigation by HSE found that Marathon Oil had failed to undertake any suitable and sufficient inspection of the pipework that would have allowed the company to identify the risk and prevent the hazard from materializing.

HSE said that these failures resulted in personnel onboard the Brae Alpha platform being exposed to an unacceptable risk of serious personal injury or death from fire and explosion, and also led to HSE serving an Improvement Notice on Marathon Oil in January 2016, requiring the company to implement an effective hydrocarbon pipework inspection and maintenance regime.

Marathon pleaded guilty to breaching Regulation 4 (1) of the Offshore Installations (Prevention of Fire and Explosion, and Emergency Response) Regulations 1995 and Section 33(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, at Aberdeen Sheriff Court. The company has been fined £1,160,000.

HSE inspector, Ahmedur Rezwan, said: “This incident is a further reminder of the ever-present hazards in oil and gas production, that if not rigorously managed can easily result in a potentially life-threatening event.”

“Corrosion Under Insulation (CUI) is a well-known risk and this incident should not have occurred. During any normal period of operations, personnel could easily have been working in, or transiting through Module 14, and they would almost certainly have been killed or suffered serious injury. The timing of the incident and fact that the gas did not ignite was fortuitous.”

Failed gas pipe in-situ with surrounding structures removed and being prepared for investigation. Source: HSE

Marathon Oil Corporation has since sold its UK assets to RockRose Energy. The transaction represents a complete country exit for Marathon Oil.

Before the deal with RockRose, Marathon Oil UK held 37%-40% operated interests in fields in the Greater Brae Area and MOWOS holds a 28% interest in the BP-operated Foinaven field unit and a 47% interest in Foinaven East, respectively. The acquisition also includes interests in the SAGE, Brae-Forties and WASPS infrastructure providing additional tariff income.


The Brae Area


The Brae Area lies approximately 170 miles (274 km) north-east of Aberdeen in a water depth of approximately 110m. The area consists of three fixed jacket platforms, three Marathon Oil operated subsea tie-backs and numerous pipelines and subsea components. Third parties also use the Brae Area facilities.

Brae Alpha started production in 1983, Brae Bravo in 1988, and East Brae in 1993. The Central and West Brae/Sedgwick subsea tie-backs to Brae Alpha started production in 1989 and 1997, respectively. The Braemar subsea tie-back to East Brae began in 2003.

Marathon Oil began initial planning and evaluation of decommissioning the Brae Area facilities in 2009.

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