Brae Alpha gas leak sparks N. Sea emergency man-down and ignites union fears over ‘a Piper Alpha disaster’

Brae Alpha platform
Brae Alpha platform

A gas leak has caused the shutdown of the Brae Alpha production platform, some 150 miles north east of Aberdeen.

Marathon Oil today confirmed that it is not safe to continue operations pending a full investigation of the incident and any necessary repairs.

No workers were injured because of the leak.

Discovered in 1975, the Brae field is one of the oldest still operating in the North Sea.

Contrary to some local reports, the company stressed that this event was a ‘gas release’ and not an ‘explosion’.

A Marathon spokesman added: “The safety and welfare of our workforce is our first priority and all personnel on board are safe and accounted for. The situation is under investigation and the relevant authorities have been notified.”

A Coastguard spokesman said: “On December 26 at 4:37pm we got a call to the Brae Alpha which had multiple gas alarms going off.

“The standby vessel Grampian Courageous proceeded to close in to where it was supposed to be.

“The platform declared a distress and requested assistance for an emergency down-man.

“We got the Bond One rescue helicopter from Aberdeen scrambled but while the aircraft was en-route the platform downgraded the emergency and the aircraft turned round and came back.”

The Health and Safety Executive will investigate the cause of the incident.

Trade unions have issued recent warnings that longer offshore worker rotas while working to maintain and repair production platforms at or near the end of their working life are likely to result in increased safe-working events.

Just last month (12 Nov 2015) Jake Molloy, RMT Regional Organiser for offshore oil workers, recently warned Holyrood MPs that this ‘could ultimately result in another Piper Alpha disaster’.

A former offshore engineer – with 38 years’ experience – also shares these fears. Speaking exclusively to Scottish Energy News  today he said: “I have experienced quite a lot over the years, this being the 4th oil and gas downturn in my career.

“What follows after each oil recovery, there has been a major Industry Accident.

“What precedes this is that the oil exploration and production companies use their usual knee-jerk to a reduced oil price by decimating their experienced workforce at the start of the downturn.

“Those being the personnel they have relied on, are replaced with the cheapest of the cheap after the downturn and are typically new to the industry

“Following shortly after each Oil & Gas recovery, increased demand for Oil & Gas, with rapid price increase, on top of the cessation of all but absolutely essential maintenance and servicing from the start of the downturn, the demand to increase production, right this minute, with “Tired” equipment, where company workforce are demanded to immediately produce more -while still working on the same curtailed expenditure mentality.

“Most often the blame is placed by the operating companies on ‘workforce failures.’

NB: For the avoidance of doubt, there is no similarity or connection made, implied, nor can it be so inferred, between this event on Brae Alpha and  the fatal explosion on Piper Alpha, nor between the companies involved. 

See also: Scottish Energy News, 12 Nov 2015

N. Sea union chief warns Holyrood MPs of risk to offshore safety amid ‘culture of fear’


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