It has been well publicised that Chris Flint, Director of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Energy Division, has written to all North Sea offshore oil and gas production operators over his concerns about unplanned gas releases. The HSE has requested operators respond by 20 July 2018 with an outline of how they intend to improve and a plan to implement this.

The press release from the HSE issued yesterday (26 April) has highlighted the need for the offshore oil and gas industry to have the appropriate measures in place to deal with Hydrocarbon releases.

By their very nature, hydrocarbon releases can be extremely dangerous and the systems operators have in place need to be robust, not only to prevent releases in the first place, but to quickly detect and respond should one occur to mitigate risk.

The RMT Union has also added comment referring to cut backs, increased workload and increased working hours.

With the 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha approaching it is timely to take a fresh look at this and to emphasise the importance of being vigilant. Of course maintenance, workforce training, workforce engagement and support are factors that operators (and their contractors) need to manage, control, consider and review to maintain safety, however it is interesting, and worth noting, that despite this letter from the HSE and comment from the Unions, the number of unplanned hydrocarbon releases has actually been decreasing.

This is not in any way playing down the serious nature of an unplanned release, but it’s also clear from this statistic that progress is being made and it is a case of continuing to build on that progress.