Oil company admits mistakes which could have caused Theddlethorpe gas field disaster

A major incident at a North Sea gas field near Theddlethorpe could have caused an explosion resulting in deaths, Lincoln Crown Court has heard.  Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire.''PPP-150102-173926001
A major incident at a North Sea gas field near Theddlethorpe could have caused an explosion resulting in deaths, Lincoln Crown Court has heard. Photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire.''PPP-150102-173926001
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A “very serious international-level incident” at a North Sea gas field near Mablethorpe could have caused an explosion resulting in deaths, a court has heard.

During a hearing involving oil and gas company ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited, evidence was put forward that the amount of gas released during an emergency incident in November 2012 was so great that even a spark from a workman dropping a tool could have caused a disaster.

There was a foreseeable and significant risk and it was fortunate there were not deaths or serious injuries

Pascal Bates, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited admitted three charges alleging the Contravention of a Requirement Imposed Under a Regulation on dates up to December 1, 2012, in relation to the Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System platform which feeds into the gas terminal at Theddlethorpe.

At a Lincoln Crown Court hearing yesterday, Pascal Bates, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said the lives of the 66 workers on the platform, 70 miles off the coast, were put at risk.

Mr Bates said: “Had there been gas ignition, there would have been an extremely high risk of multiple deaths - not necessarily all 66 workers, but it could have been a very serious international-level incident.

“There was a foreseeable and significant risk and it was fortunate there were not deaths or serious injuries.”

ConocoPhillips (UK) eventually evacuated a number of staff by helicopter before the problem was eventually fixed, but Mr Bates said there had been two earlier but less serious releases of gas before the major incident.

It happened after a valve was removed for repairs on the platform which provided power to the site, while a second valve was not closed off resulting in gas being released.

Mr Bates said: “The problem affected the turbine hall which provided power to the entire installation and, as a result, 38 non-essential workers were taken off by helicopter while their colleagues dealt with the problem.

“But there was a risk of explosion or of workers being asphyxiated and a maintenance technician said it could have also sparked a fire or an explosion simply by falling back or dropping a metal tool.”

However, the problem was identified as being caused by an open valve and a worker managed to shut it several hours after the first gas was released.

Richard Lissack, QC, for ConocoPhillips (UK), said the company takes health and safety very seriously and has a good record.

“We hope you will be able to regard these cases as a very regrettable, isolated blemish for a company who at the time took and now takes safety very seriously indeed,” Mr Lissack said.

“The company responded rapidly and decisively to the incident, without any regard for either the cost or the legal consequences, openly working together with the HSE to address the problems.

“The company wishes to ensure there is never a repeat.”

Mr Lissack added that the company’s fire and gas detection system worked and the shutdown system operated exactly as it was designed to do preventing any fire or explosion.

Judge John Pini QC adjourned sentence to a later date.