Only luck saved Statoil from a major disaster in the North Sea just one month after the Deepwater Horizon blow-out and sinking in the US Gulf of Mexico.
An official report found that there were “serious deficiencies” in the Norwegian oil group’s offshore operations on Gullfaks C May.
The incident, which led to an evacuation of the Gullfaks C platform after loss of well control, was “very serious”, according to Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority who carried out the report.
It had been argued by some experts that the likelihood of a Macondo-style incident in the Norwegian sector was small, as safety standards applied were the highest in the industry.
The PSA report tells just how close Statoil came to disaster.
“The PSA regards the incident as very serious. It involved the lengthy loss of a barrier. Only chance averted a sub-surface blowout and/or explosion, and prevented the incident from developing into a major accident.
“Serious deficiencies have been identified in Statoil’s planning of this Gullfaks well and in management checks that the work was being done in an acceptable manner.”
The PSA and union leaders have now warned of a maintenance backlog in Norwegian operations.
Production on the Gullfaks platform was suspended for almost two months after the May incident while mud and eventually cement were pumped into the faulty well.
The report questioned why measures implemented after a gas blow-out on the Snorre platform in 2004 had failed to prevent the latest incident and gave Statoil until this month (December 10) to come up with a plan.
Oystein Michelsen, head of Statoil’s Norwegian exploration and production, said an internal investigation had reached similar conclusions to the PSA and vowed improvements in “management, compliance and risk assessment”.
“The conclusions reached in these reports are serious and show that we need to improve on management, following up on rules and risk assessments,” admitted Michelsen.
However, Statoil has also defended its position by saying that the number of serious incidents on the Norwegian Continental Shelf has dropped 80% over the past decade.
“Even though the trend is positive, what happened on Gullfaks demonstrates the need to intensify our efforts in order to prevent serious incidents,” said Michelsen.
Statoil was forced to evacuate the Gullfaks C platform after pressure in a well destabilized on May 19, similar to the event that led to an explosion on and loss of the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible drilling rig in the US Gulf of Mexico.
The semi-state company was obliged to shut down Gullfaks C production for almost two months after it pumped drilling mud into the well to prevent a blowout.
It has emerged that problems with the well were encountered just weeks earlier in April and December last year.
Even Norway’s Bellona Foundation has stepped into the Gullfaks fray and recently threatened to file a police complaint against Statoil based on the almost 40 breaches in regulations identified.
On November 19, the PSA notified Statoil that it intends to issue an order after auditing the company’s planning for well 34/10-C-06A on Gullfaks C .
The audit, conducted over the period October 8-15, comprised interviews with people playing key roles in preparing for the well, and a review of relevant documents from the planning process in order to identify the requirements, assessments and decisions underlying the work.