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Dangers by definition

Everyone knows that petroleum operations carry a degree of risk. So operating safely calls for detailed knowledge of the hazards involved – and how they should be tackled.

This article was originally published in
Safety - Status and Signals 2012-2013

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A company responsible for pursuing oil and gas activities acceptably must identify the occurrences it needs to guard against – known as “defined hazard and accident conditions” (DFUs).

Barriers, either physical or organisational, then have to be erected to prevent these types of incidents from causing an accident or serious harm. Risk analyses are an important tool for clarifying how a DFU could develop into an incident, and for assessing the strength of established barriers.

DFUs with a potential for causing major accidents in the petroleum industry include the following:

Leaks of flammable gas or liquids:
A distinction is drawn between ignited and non-ignited leaks. A non-ignited leak, for example, could allow gas to spread over large areas so that later ignition causes an explosion and a major accident.

Well control incidents:
Loss of well control could lead to a blowout. Such an incident has the potential to cause substantial harm to people, the environment and material assets.

Fire/explosion in other areas:
An example of such incidents is a fire in the living quarters with the potential to develop into a major accident.

Collisions and other structural damage to a facility:
A distinction is drawn between collisions by vessels (supply ships, shuttle tankers or the
like) manoeuvring close to the facility, and by vessels not related to the activity or drifting objects (such as barges).

Platforms and rigs are designed to withstand minor collisions. But being struck by a big vessel, possibly at high speed, could cause damage which leads in the worst case to complete collapse of the support structure.

Damage can also occur in extreme weather conditions. This type of hazard involves loss of stability or mooring/positioning system failures on floating units, resulting at worst in a total loss.

Leaks from subsea production facilities with pipelines and associated equipment:
Installations on the seabed can be damaged by objects dropped from above. Fishing gear may also cause substantial harm.

The major accident potential of damage to subsea facilities relates primarily to pollution from possible oil spills. Any nearby surface facilities could also be threatened.

Other DFUs also exist which have no major accident potential but nevertheless form part of the overall picture. These include personal injuries, occupational illness and diving.

The annual RNNP report from the PSA uses one or more risk indicators to
measure the status of most DFUs. All data acquired through various channels are processed in a statistical model. This shows how the various contributors to risk are developing, both collectively and for the individual DFU.

Read more about Trends in risk level (RNNP) here