BP Cited for Safety Lapses in the North Sea

All but one of BP’s five North Sea installations inspected in 2009 were cited for failure to comply with emergency regulations on oil spills, raising questions about the company’s ability to manage a disaster in the area.

Sharon Lorimer

Offshore inspection records – obtained by the Financial Times under the UK’s Freedom of Information Act – report that BP had not complied with rules on regular training for offshore operators on how to respond to an incident.

Inspectors from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the UK government body monitoring compliance with companies’ approved emergency plans, also cited BP for failing to conduct oil spill exercises adequately.

Decc’s concerns come at a time of heightened scrutiny of BP in particular and of the wider offshore oil and gas industry, in the wake of the explosion on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tony Hayward, BP’s outgoing chief executive, is due on Wednesday to address a British parliamentary select committee as part of an inquiry into the risks of UK deep water drilling.

Since the gulf disaster, a number of politicians, including Günther Oettinger, the European energy commissioner, have called for a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the North Sea.

UK regulators have insisted there is no need, as the safety regime is sufficiently robust. BP has 33 platforms in the region, of which 12 have been inspected by Decc during the five years until the end of 2009.

But the records of 11 of the 23 inspections carried out by the Decc during the period contain criticism of BP’s training processes. Of those, eight inspection records on seven different facilities suggested the necessary training had not taken place. BP said it had rectified the issues and now complied fully with the regulation on oil spill exercises.

“It was identified that at one point, a relatively small number of trained individuals had not attended a refresher course in the required time frame. This issue has since been addressed,” said BP. “The whole industry has gone through a process of updating their oil spill response plans since official guidance was issued by the government in February 2009; BP’s new format has been described by the government as best in class.”

It is difficult to compare the preparedness of BP’s peers, because Decc inspects each company differently. However, the documents point to BP having more problems with inspections on oil spill training preparedness than Royal Dutch Shell.

Shell was also cited for breaching these rules regarding training with five of 27 inspections in the past five years – including one dated July 2010 – suggesting officers had not been trained adequately.

Shell is further criticized for infractions such as holding too little chemical dispersant at hand. Shell said it had addressed all the findings.