A major leak at a North Sea gas field off the Lincolnshire coast could have caused an explosion resulting in deaths, Lincoln Crown Court was told today. The amount of gas released was so great that even a spark from a workman dropping a tool could have caused a disaster. Pascal Bates, prosecuting for the Health & Safety Executive, said the lives of the 66 workers on the ConocoPhillips platform, 70 miles off the coast, were put at risk. The company evacuated a number of staff by helicopter before the problem was eventually fixed.
The gas releases occurred in November 2012 after a valve was removed for repairs on the platform which provided power to the site. A second valve was not closed off with the result that a gas was released. Mr Bates said the problem affected the turbine hall which provided power to the entire installation. As a result 38 “non-essential” workers were taken off by helicopter while their colleagues dealt with the problem. Mr Bates said there was a risk of explosion or of workers being asphyxiated.
A maintenance technician, he said, could have sparked a fire or an explosion simply by falling back or dropping a metal tool. Eventually 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. Mr Bates said “There was a foreseeable and significant risk. It was fortunate there were not deaths or serious injuries.
“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.
ConocoPhillips (UK) Limited admitted three charges alleging the “Contravention of a Requirement Imposed Under a Regulation”. The offences which occurred on dates up to 1 December, 2012, relate to the Lincolnshire Offshore Gas Gathering System platform which feeds into the gas terminal at Theddlethorpe. Richard Lissack, QC, for ConocoPhillips, 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,” he 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 Health & Safety Executive to address the problems. The company wishes to ensure there is never a repeat.” He said that the company’s fire and gas detection system worked and the shut-down system operated exactly as it was designed to do preventing any fire or explosion.
Judge John Pini QC adjourned sentence to a later date.