OSLO–Statoil ASA (STO, STL.OS) evacuated 336 people by helicopter from a housing platform in the Norwegian Sea in rough weather with gale force winds, snow and 10-meter waves, the second time since September that offshore oil workers in Norway faced serious safety problems.
The Floatel Superior housing platform tilted up to four degrees during the night after a ballast tank was punctured by an anchor. There was no danger of oil or gas leaks due to the incident at the Njord A field, and the floating hotel was stabilized, but Statoil decided to evacuate a significant number of people.
“The most dramatic phase of the event was at the time when it was considered impossible to move people by helicopter because of the weather,” said Petroleum Safety Authority spokeswoman Inger Anda. “Had this continued, the situation would have been more critical and put more stress on people.”
Housing platforms, or so-called “floatels,” offer temporary accommodation to offshore workers involved in significant upgrade work and are sailed out to where they are needed on floating legs. Oil and gas production rigs, by contrast, have sufficient beds only for those tasked with operating them on a daily basis.
The incident highlighted the dangers of offshore oil and gas operations in rough conditions. The Petroleum Safety Authority, or PSA, said it would now investigate the “serious stability incident.” It is already investigating a September incident when a drilling rig operated by Saipem SpA tilted sharply in the Barents Sea after a ballast tank was filled unintentionally. In 1980, 123 people died when the Alexander Kielland platform in the North Sea tilted before turning upside-down and sinking.
“The potential for a huge accident is big,” said Roy Erling Furre of the Norwegian offshore union SAFE. “Stability issues on a platform are quite serious.”
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Southern Norway said three helicopters were lifting 15 people off the floating hotel at a time, taking them to the nearby Njord A drilling rig.
“The weather is a bit rough, wind in gale force, wave heights of 8 to 10 meters and snow. The wind is west, northwest. So far, the helicopters have had no problems,” said Einar Knudsen, press spokesman at rescue center, speaking earlier on Wednesday.
“This was a serious situation, and it was handled accordingly,” Statoil spokesman Ole Anders Skauby said. He said, adding that Statoil was satisfied with the successful evacuation but said even rougher weather would have made it more difficult.
“With higher waves and more movement in the platform, we would have had problems evacuating by helicopter,” he said. “In that case, we would have had to consider other ways of evacuating,” such as life boats.
Six helicopters were mobilized, and while three of them were evacuating oil workers to Njord A, the others took the workers from Njord A to Kristiansund on the Norwegian west coast, a flight of about 45 minutes. Thirty-eight out of the total crew of 374 will remain on board the platform to maintain a minimum of security, the PSA said.
The Njord A field has been closed for an upgrade and isn’t producing or processing oil or gas. The field produced about 44,490 barrels of oil equivalent per day in August. Statoil didn’t say when the field was supposed to restart production or whether the startup could be delayed as a result of Wednesday’s incident.
- Kjetil Malkenes Hovland, (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company