Safety chiefs have taken action against a global oil company following a major North Sea gas leak.
The Health and Safety Executive has accused Canadian Natural Resources (CNR) International of putting people in danger on the Ninian Central platform and has given the firm until February to comply with a series of maintenance demands.
The company could now face prosecution if it fails to comply with the strict terms set out by inspectors.
Ninian Central was issued with a prohibition notice – which can stop work – for the second time in four years after the gas release on August 11. The P&J understands staff on board the platform, which is 100 miles east of Shetland, were called to muster stations at about 9.30pm after the leak was discovered.
About 150 staff gathered at their positions and waited to find out if they were to be evacuated, but were stood down at 3am.
Production resumed on August 21 – a week after the prohibition notice was served – but the firm, which employs 350 people from its offices in Aberdeen, has been served with two HSE “improvement notices”. One, regarding “unsafe and dangerous” metal panels, has been complied with. The other relates to the Ninian’s flare system, which is used to burn off waste gas and clear the platform of all unwanted hydrocarbons in an emergency.
It is believed that the leak was caused by a blockage in the flare route, and the company has been issued with a list of safety improvements to prevent it happening again.
Last night the HSE said that its investigation into the incident was still ongoing.
A spokeswoman for CNR said: “We can confirm that a gas release, which occurred on August 11 on the Ninian Central platform, was investigated by both ourselves and the HSE. Production remained shut down until all necessary assurance activities were completed.
“Production was restarted on August 21. The HSE was kept informed throughout.”
She added that work was “ongoing” to address the issues raised by the HSE and that the health and safety of the workforce was the company’s “top priority”.
The Ninian Central is regularly and stringently inspected, the spokeswoman said, adding: “We continue to make significant investment in Ninian Central to extend the life of this key asset.”
Jake Molloy, spokesman for the RMT union in Aberdeen, said if money was not spent maintaining the 1970s structure, then it would have to be shut down. “CNR International has a lot of work to do across those structures that are way beyond their design life,” he said. “I started on the Ninian in 1980, and back then they thought it only had 10 years left – but here we are 30 years on and it is still going.
“It comes back to the analogy of an old car. If you are going to run a vintage car, then you need to spend money maintaining it. The HSE is forcing them (CNR International) in that direction and if they are not adhering, it should be shut down.”
Ninian Central was also served with a prohibition notice in 2006 when mechanic Keith Ireland died in hospital after being struck by liquid mud on the platform. But the company overturned the sanction when a tribunal ruled it was “inappropriate”.
The firm was also later cleared of safety breaches at Stonehaven Sheriff Court after a sheriff accepted that it had no case to answer.
The offshore industry was warned recently about its safety record after a damning report revealed there were nearly 100 major oil and gas leaks from UK platforms in the past year.
The HSE said the number of potentially dangerous hydrocarbon releases in UK waters had reached a five-year high. The provisional total between April 1, 2009, and March 31 this year was 85, compared with 61 over the previous year.