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Piper Alpha: Industry embraces challenges, R2S says

The Piper Alpha disaster three decades ago drove an unprecedented pace and quality of change in operational safety for offshore oil and gas
The Piper Alpha disaster three decades ago drove an unprecedented pace and quality of change in operational safety for offshore oil and gas

In the three decades that have passed since Piper Alpha this industry has changed exponentially: the disaster driving an unprecedented pace and quality of change in operational safety for offshore oil and gas.

Looking back, we can see just how impactful the changes implemented in the aftermath of Piper have been and, looking forward, we can see how the legacy of that fateful night continues to influence.

Globally, over these same three decades, we’ve witnessed both remarkable achievements and dramatic changes, from the collapse of the Berlin Wall to refugee crises, the advent of the internet to drones, $12 oil, $100 oil and global economic meltdown.

Complacency is not an intention, but human nature. Once again, we have been forced to face the consequences of and react to a collective industry complacency.

While we cannot compare the downturn of recent years with the tragedy of Piper Alpha, the changes we are communally implementing and embracing as a result are significant. Parallels to that period of wholesale operational transformation can be made.

Like the operational safety changes that followed Piper Alpha, our actions and developments today have the potential to change our industry beyond recognition. They are already helping to position the North Sea as the global leader in digitalisation and automation in oil and gas.

There are also some more subtle reactive parallels.

By moving the “how” of his recommendations, away from prescriptive legislation to a more progressive goal-setting model, Lord Cullen encouraged a climate of proactivity.

This shift can’t be overlooked in its contribution to the success of the implementation of the report’s recommendations and the benefits and improvements they have
delivered for industry.

Similar encouragement has been evident since the downturn, with a realisation that proactivity in areas of efficiencies and collaboration was required to defend our industry and build resilience in the face of a new normal.

Technological solutions have been sought, drivers to speed R&D cycles established and input from other industries encouraged. And today, industry bodies like Oil and Gas UK and the Oil and Gas Authority are also continuing Lord Cullen’s theme of goals-setting through, for example, Vision 2035.

Like everyone connected with this industry, attending or reading about the events and discussion on the 30th anniversary, Piper Alpha remains an emotional and powerful motivation for change. This impetus isn’t limited to the field of safety, but should be embraced for the wider betterment of industry.

For me, the words and actions of Steve Rae, a survivor of the tragedy involved in various commemorative events in recent weeks, have
resonated. The symbolism of his baton-hand to the new generation was moving, and his awareness that this incoming workforce learns in different ways is particularly important.

My team has talked before in this column about the generational labour challenges: attracting talent, retaining it and embracing new ways of learning and working.

Technology and its continuous innovation is central to this.

It is an exceptional time for oil and gas and for Aberdeen, although not in the way we would traditionally
associate this adjective.

We are not just witnessing innovation, but are sitting amidst a unique hub of technological development, expertise and experience that has incredible value to our industry both here in the North Sea, and globally.

So, three decades from now, let us celebrate a safe industry and push technological boundaries we can’t yet imagine. Let the world look to the north-east of Scotland for transformative solutions, knowledge and skills.

Like the operational safety revolution that followed the devastation of Piper Alpha, let us establish levels of technological excellence and best practice that transcend industrial and geographic boundaries.

To follow more of our special Piper Alpha 30th anniversary coverage, click here.


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