BP’s ‘serious breaches’ risked explosion at Norway oil platform

An oil and gas leak at BP’s Ula field could have caused a deadly explosion, Norwegian regulators said. They ordered the company to review maintenance procedures after discovering “serious breaches.”

An estimated 125 barrels of oil and 1,600 kilograms (3,520 pounds) of gas leaked at the North Sea platform in September because of corroded bolts in a valve, Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority, or PSA, said today in a statement. While no one was injured, production stopped for 67 days.

“The incident had the potential to become a major accident,” the PSA said. “A number of lives might have been lost and substantial material damage caused.”

BP, which operated the well that caused the worst U.S. oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, had already been ordered by Norway to review maintenance management for aging installations after a fire at the Valhall platform in 2011. BP needs to assess whether measures put in place after the fire require further improvement by Sept. 1, the PSA said Monday.

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BP had found seepage from the valve six months before the accident and already decided the equipment needed replacing during a scheduled maintenance shutdown in 2013, the PSA said in its report on the incident. BP should have responded better because they had dealt with similar corrosion at the same platform in 2008, it said.

The Ula investigation “has identified a number of serious breaches of the regulations” and shows that “deficiencies still exist in the maintenance system,” the authority said.

Insufficient Documentation

While the breaches are mainly related to BP’s procedures for identifying and managing risk, they also include insufficient documentation for parts such as the valve involved in the leak, PSA spokesman Oeyvind Midttun said in a phone interview from Stavanger on Norway’s west coast.

“We have improvement potential,” BP spokesman Jan Erik Geirmo said by mobile phone. The PSA’s conclusions “closely match our own inquiry when it comes to the fundamental cause of the incident. We take note of the orders and discrepancies that the authority points out, and the work to comply has already begun.”

An earlier maintenance inspection had shown “light seepage” on the valve, and improvement work was planned at the next shut-down, Geirmo said. BP’s risk assessment of the inspection findings was in this case “insufficient,” he said.

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A police investigation into the leak at Ula is still on- going, the head of the Rogaland District police’s North Sea and Environmental section, Aaslaug Hoegemark, said by phone from Stavanger.

“Though we have found some serious discrepancies and BP has a lot to work with going forward, we remain confident that the company is able to manage its business in a good manner and in line with Norwegian regulations,” said the PSA’s Midttun.

BP operates the Ula field with an 80 percent share, while Dong Energy A/S owns the remaining 20 percent. The field produced 15,700 barrels of oil equivalent a day in February, according to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.