Offshore Oil Rig Accidents – Oil Rig Explosions

Just about everyone has heard about the Deepwater Horizon explosion, especially after the movie about the accident came out in 2016. This isn’t, however, the only disastrous offshore oil rig accident related to an explosion.

Offshore Oil and Gas Rig Operations: Fatal Accidents and Injuries

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fatality rate for onshore and offshore oil and gas rig workers in the US has been seven times higher than the national average in the period from 2003 to 2010. The average was 27.1 people per 100,000 workers in the oil rigging field, in comparison with the national average of 3.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers.

The CDC report shows that 128 workers have lost their lives in offshore rig accidents over the period. The leading cause of death was transportation events. They contributed to 51 percent of the fatalities. Most of these accidents involved aircraft transportation.

Contact with objects and equipment was the second leading cause of death (16 percent of the fatalities). Fires and explosions follow – they caused the death of 17 workers or 13 percent of the lethal outcomes. The final prominent cause of death on offshore oil rigs is contact with hazardous substances – 16 cases or slightly under 13 percent of all deaths.

All of the fatal accidents but one occurred in Gulf of Mexico operations.

According to Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement statistics for the Gulf of Mexico, rigging accidents have caused three fatalities in 2011, four fatalities in 2012 and three fatalities in 2013. The number of injuries was 213, 253 and 246 respectively. There were 103 fires and explosions during 2011, 134 during 2012 and 103 in 2013. These numbers make such accidents some of the most commonly occurring on offshore platforms. In comparison, loss of well control accidents were only eight in 2013 and the number of collisions during the year was 23. Here are a few other accidents that contributed to death or injuries during the year, as well as the number of occurrences:

  • Material handling – 38 accidents
  • Gas release- nine
  • Pipeline accident – nine
  • Structural damage – four
  • A disabled or damaged safety system – two
  • Miscellaneous and other accidents – six

Risk Factors

Issues like oil rig fires, pipeline blowouts, machinery malfunctions and use of dangerous equipment, as well as gas leaks can occur on an offshore oil rig. While negligence accidents are common, various other contributing factors could increase the risk for individuals working in such environments.

JRC Scientific and Policy Reports is a European Commission (EC) publication that has gone ahead to analyze oil rig explosions and deadly accidents to identify the most common contributing factors.

According to the publications, the biggest hazards related to the work of gas and oil rig workers include the following:

  • Fires resulting from the ignition of released hydrocarbons
  • Explosions (usually after the release of gas)
  • Oil release on the surface of the sea
  • Failure of safety or critical equipment
  • Loss of structural integrity on the rig
  • Loss of well control
  • Failure of a well barrier

Similarly, a specialized American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) publication has taken a look at the responsibilities and the processes that contribute to the biggest number of fatal workplace accidents. The report suggests that most of all fatalities occur during the following:

  • Rigging
  • Materials handling
  • General well servicing
  • Commuting
  • Rig equipment repairs and maintenance
  • Welding
  • Flowback operations
  • Unknown operations

At least 10 of the fatalities mentioned above-involved employees who were working on their own, without assistance or supervision. Additional reports suggest that worker fatigue and faulty practices could be playing a major role in fatal outcome and accidents causing serious injuries.

There are several additional factors pertaining to oil rig operations that may increase the risk of fatal outcomes and serious environmental consequences. A few of these factors include the following:

  • Inadequate risk assessment pertaining to specific operations and the handling of hazardous materials
  • Ineffective emergency warning systems – very often, workers are not provided with heads up about impeding dangers, which contributes to the loss of multiple lives
  • Poor training procedures
  • Inadequate maintenance of critical equipment
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Unrealistic operation schedules that contribute to excess worker fatigue
  • Poor communication between the different shifts pertaining to problematic areas of operation

To sum it up, the Oil and Gas Journal has presented an in-depth report about risk indicators. These have been categorized into five major groups – risks stemming from major hazards (explosions, for example), risks stemming from emergency preparedness issues (no warning system), occupational injury risks, occupational illness risks and risk perception (inadequate assessment of hazards or the handling of dangerous materials).

Some of the Biggest Oil Rig Explosions and Accidents in US History

When it comes to disastrous offshore oil rig accidents, a couple of occurrences have to be examined besides the Deepwater Horizon tragedy – an explosion that caused the death of 11 workers and one of the largest oil spills in the history of marine oil drilling. As a result of the explosion, over four million barrels of oil were spilled over a period of 87 days. That’s how long of a period was needed to cap the damaged Macondo well.

Unsumantica Jack-up Disaster

This deadly accident occurred in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of October 2003. Unsumantica Jack-up was positioned along the Kab-101 platform to complete the drilling of a new well. Eventually, a major storm caused the cantilever deck to hit the platform’s production valve tree. Oil and gas leakage occurred, and crew members found themselves incapable of sealing the faulty valves. As a result of the leak, an explosion eventually took place.

The Unsumantica accident took the lives of 22 workers (21 were killed during the evacuation itself, and one person was declared missing). In the months that followed the explosion, two more fire breakouts occurred. Complete control over the well was achieved eventually at the end of 2007.

C.P. Baker Drilling Barge Disaster

C.P. Baker’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico occurred on June 30, 1964, causing the death of 21 workers.

The barge was deployed by Pan American Petroleum Corporation to complete a drilling operation. The two hulls of the barge suffered an explosion, which caused water to enter the vessel and cut off the electrical supply.

As a result of these complications, the entire barge was soon on fire, and new explosions followed. Of the 43-crew member, only 22 individuals survived the disaster. Most of the people who stayed alive managed to jump off the barge before the fire had managed to spread. In about 30 minutes, the vessel sank completely. Rescue workers recovered eight bodies and declared 13 crew members are missing.

The Abkatun Permanente Explosion

One of the newest deadly offshore oil rig accidents occurred in April 2015. A Pemex Gulf of Mexico Abkatun A-Permanente platform caught fire after an explosion occurred in the dewatering and pumping area. There’s no information about the cause of the accident.

While the fire didn’t cause an oil spill, it killed four workers on the platform and necessitated the evacuation of over 300 people. Sixteen were injured during the process. The situation was similar to the one on C.P. Baker – in order to escape the fire, some of the workers on the platform were forced to jump into the water.

In a three-year period ending in 2015, 64 people have been killed in fires involving Pemex rigging facilities.

Eventually, Abkatun A- Permanente caught fire again in February 2016, killing two more workers. The losses associated with just the first explosion on the platform exceed 780 million dollars.

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