The Weekly Reflektion Week 33 / 2020

We have facilitated several workshops over the past few years with a focus on building a ‘One Team’ culture, where the operator, the rig contractor, the service providers and the partners consciously cooperate to ‘make each other good’ with a goal of achieving a superior final product. Haven’t we always cooperated?

Do the different players involved in your operations consciously cooperate and help each other to be better? Do our contractual relationships encourage us to work together by aligning our goals, or are we still adversarial in our relationships?

With the oil and gas industry already in a very dark period just two months after the Piper Alpha disaster, the Ocean Odyssey rig had been contracted by ARCO to drill a high-pressure, high temperature (HPHT) exploration well offshore Aberdeen. They had been struggling with lost circulation problems deep in the well for about two weeks, when with limited mud volumes and barite available, the operator representatives decided to pull out of the hole to regain circulation. The operation had been dogged by conflicts between the operator’s onshore offices in Great Yarmouth and Aberdeen, and the offshore team where, according to testimony at the inquest, threats were made that if the offshore team did not do as they were told, they would be found “a nice little rig out in the Syrian desert”. The drilling contractor was strongly against pulling out of hole and told the operator but was overruled.

During the trip out of hole, a pit gain of 70 bbls (12,2 m3) was registered. At 1130 hrs on 22nd September 1988 a kick was taken, and the well was shut in on the blowout preventers (BOPs). Most of the crew were sent to the lifeboats to prepare for evacuation if that became necessary, with a skeleton crew left at their stations to circulate out the kick. The off-duty radio operator, who was on his first offshore trip, was ordered by the OIM to leave the lifeboat, and return to his office to request assistance over the radio.

When circulating out the kick, the pressure in the annulus of the well suddenly increased dramatically, and the flexible section of choke line into the lower marine riser package (LMRP) burst. Gas bubbled up under the rig, and ignited, engulfing the rig in flames.

Three lifeboats were launched, luckily in good weather, and eight of the crew jumped into the sea from the burning rig. The sixty seven crew members from the lifeboats and from the sea were rescued by the standby vessel and an anchor handling vessel nearby. The radio operator was killed in the explosion and subsequent fire. The fire burned for 10 hours before the anchor chains were severed and the rig was towed off location. The well later bridged over. This incident led to the UK Department of Energy effectively banning high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) drilling for a number of years until training and procedures had been improved.

At the inquest, it was found that the operator had not followed ‘safe and correct’ drilling practices, failed to identify correct shut-in drill pipe pressure and failed to calculate circulation time of the gas kick. They were fined GBP250,000 while the rig contractor was fined GBP25,000, both accepting the fines.

The conflict between the operator onshore organisations and their representatives offshore, and the failure to consider advice from the rig contractor certainly played a part in the outcome of this incident. The ‘One Team’ mantra explicitly encourages all parties to play a part in critical decisions, with a goal of ‘making each other good’, and to stop the job if uncertainty arises. Trust and confidence between the parties and facilitated by the ‘One Team’ approach should also make handling conflicts easier. Do you encourage a ‘One Team’ approach, and what is it you do to make it work?

Reflekt AS