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Sustainability Stories: July 2022

34 Years Since Piper Alpha Disaster

Wednesday, July 6, 2022  by qrelihan

     If this is the first time you have heard the name Piper Alpha, then you are not alone because I only learned of the namesakes’ disaster today, on its 34th anniversary.  I was doing my daily perusal of LinkedIn when I came across a post that caught my attention by claiming there was an offshore accident that was deadlier and more devastating than Deepwater Horizon.  This particular post introduced me to the Piper Alpha disaster which occurred off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland in 1988  claiming the lives of 167 men and inspiring the implementation of new safety policies (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6950337246914879488/).

    The Piper Alpha was an offshore oil rig that started out specializing in oil production and due to its success with that it added gas conversion to its operations about 8 years later (STV News 2022).  Before gas conversion was introduced to the Piper Alpha the original layout placed high risk operations far from staff areas as a safety precaution. To accommodate gas conversion some physical alterations were made to the rig which meant that high risk operations ended up being closer together and as a result closer to staff areas.  For example, the area where gas compression took place was located next to the control room, which proved to be very deadly (STV News 2022).  However, as is the case for most disasters of this magnitude it is never just one thing that causes it but rather it is the result of a perfect storm of mishaps, misinformation, and miscommunication.

    Just before 10pm on July 6, 1988, there was a shift change and unfortunately it was not communicated to the personnel coming in that maintenance was being done on one of the major pipes and it was not to be used.  This led to a condensate leak which triggered the first explosion, which was then followed by two subsequent explosions (Fiona Macleod CEng FIChemE and Stephen Richardson 2018).   As you can imagine the explosions created fires and flames that took days to put out before the rig eventually crumbled, sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  Despite it being the deadliest offshore disaster, those who lost their lives did not do so in vain because this accident and the following investigating spurred the creation of health and safety policies in the UK.  Among those policies were those addressing permits, maintenance, and complacency all of which are still in place today and have no doubt saved countless lives since.

    My only request is that if you have not heard of the Piper Alpha disaster prior to today, take some time to google it and read about it.  My guess is that you will pick up on some of the same themes that I did because it is impossible to ignore the role that health and safety played in this disaster.  In fact, it may make you take a step back and understand the importance of all the training we do and why we need to hold so many licenses & permits to perform jobs.  I linked the sources that I used to the bottom of the page if you would like to do some further reading on the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster. 






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