Crane Collapse Adds to Offshore Safety Debate
Norwegian safety authorities are investigating the collapse of a crane on the drill floor of the North Sea offshore platform Gullfaks B. On Tuesday, the platform's "Eagle Arm" pipe-handling crane broke loose and fell a distance of about 30 feet with a 17-ton load. No one was near the area of impact, and no injuries were reported. The platform's operator immediately halted drilling operations and secured the well.
Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority opened an investigation and sent a team to the platform on Wednesday. Four investigators from the Rogaland Police District have also been dispatched to the scene and are interviewing the platform workers. The operator, Statoil, said that it would launch a parallel investigation in cooperation with the drilling contractor.
The aging Gullfaks B underwent a major overhaul from 2012-2015, and the PSA inspected the platform last November. The audit team found several non-conformities related to the maintenance of "hydrocarbon-carrying systems"; documentation for overhauling and recertifying BOPs; manning for monitoring and control; and the labelling of pipe systems, valves and equipment.
Statoil's installations have suffered from a string of safety incidents over the past six months, including some that might have been fatal under different circumstances, regulators say. The problems are serious enough that the PSA has chosen an unusual slogan for 2017: this year, "The Trend is to be Reversed" – not the trend of the offshore sector’s decline, but the trend of declining offshore safety.
Leif Sande, the chairman of oil and gas workers' union Industri Energi, alleges that PSA is not using its authority to enforce safety standards. "Where are the stringent reactions?" he said, speaking to Bergens Tidende. "PSA believes they will not be using the whip, but will rather encourage [operators] to do better, and now there have been a ton of accidents in the past year."
In 2015, Statoil announced an aggressive plan to scale back exploration and cut overhead, including reducing its headcount by 20 percent. The firm says that it has saved $3 billion since the start of the program, and it is aiming for cost reductions of an additional $1 billion this year.
Sande points to cost reduction as a leading cause of the sector's safety problems, and he is not alone. PSA director general Anne Myhrvold recently told a meeting of industry leaders that “cost cuts appear to be a contributory factor" in the recent string of accidents. She told the assembled executives that the agency wants them “to achieve visible and measurable results during 2017 in key safety areas."