Development of safety systems offshore oi and gas

The development of formal safety management systems in the offshore oil and gas industry can be said to have started with the Piper Alpha catastrophe that occurred in 1988. Of course, companies working offshore had had safety programs before that time, but Piper Alpha can be viewed as being the starting point for the development of formal Safety Management Systems for offshore operations — world wide. .

Following the accident, an investigation was conducted by a committee headed by the Scottish High Court judge, Lord Cullen. The committee’s report was highly critical of the safety programs that had been in place in North Sea facilities prior to the accident.

In response to the Cullen report the offshore industry took two different tracks, as illustrated in the drawing at the top of this page. Companies operating in the North Sea (and, later on, other areas of the world such as Australia) continued with the safety case approach, as shown in the bottom track of the sketch, but radically improved the thoroughness and quality of the documents and put in place more stringent measures to ensure that the recommended measures were actually implemented.

In the United States (principally the Gulf of Mexico) the response to the Piper Alpha incident was equally vigorous, but followed a different path. The American Petroleum Institute (API) developed their Recommended Practice 75 which recommended that offshore facilities develop a Safety and Environmental Program (SEMP). Like a safety case, RP 75 is non-prescriptive. However, it makes extensive reference to industry standards (mostly from the American Petroleum Institute), and so is perceived as being considerably more prescriptive then the safety case approach. Nor does RP 75 require that a formal assessment of acceptable risk (ALARP) be determined.

Articles and safety moments to do with the offshore oil and gas business are shown below.

Copyright © Ian Sutton. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Safety Moment #56: Sinking Standards

This month is the 30 year anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. And, as to be expected, many people have published articles, blogs and web pages to do with that event, and the lessons that it continues to teach us. But there is an earlier maritime event which probably had a greater impact in its day than did Piper Alpha in ours. And that event was the sinking of the Titanic. (The image at the head of this post is actually of the Great Eastern, for reasons we discuss below.)

The Case for Safety Cases

The Deepwater Horizon/Macondo catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) in the year 2010 demonstrated the need for new safety management regulations. The draft regulations went through various iterations, and the name of the responsible government agency changed twice. In the end, the SEMS (Safety and Environmental Management System) regulation became a requirement for offshore oil and gas operations in the United States.

Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS)

The SEMS rule applies to oil and gas operations in U.S. waters. It is administered by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The rule holds the facility accountable for the overall safety of the offshore facility, including ensuring that all contractors and subcontractors have safety policies and procedures in place that support the implementation of the operator's SEMS program and align with the principles of managing safety set forth in API RP 75.