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Shell hit with UK notice over ‘explosion’ risk

Anglo-Dutch giant handed Improvement Notice by HSE following uncontrolled gas release on North Sea platform

A fire and explosion risk as a result of an uncontrolled gas release caused by a bungled leak test on a platform in the UK North Sea has landed Shell with an Improvement Notice from safety authorities.

The incident involving the Barque PB normally-unmanned installation in the southern North Sea concerned the release of 138 kilogrammes of flammable gas from pipework connected to a vessel, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) said.

HSE found that a gross leak test with nitrogen was carried out but then followed by an “in-service” leak test using flammable gas, rather than an alternative test again using nitrogen, with no assessment of the additional risk of doing so.

The incident occurred on 19 July, with the HSE issuing the notice on 31 August. The amount of gas release is likely to put it in second most serious “significant” category for hydrocarbon releases.

In its notice the HSE said the release “exposed persons on board to a risk of fire and explosion”, also contending that Shell used flammable gas rather than inert nitrogen gas – which was available – to leak test the pipework.

“I found that you had not made and given effect to such arrangements as are appropriate for the effective planning, organising and control of the preventive and protective measures for the reinstatement of said pipework,” the HSE inspector’s notice read.

Shell had “not obtained approval for the selected reinstatement method by the asset holder prior to implementation” of this test with flammable hydrocarbons.

The Anglo-Dutch supermajor was given a compliance date under the notice of 31 October, but this was then revised to 1 January next year.

A Shell spokesperson confirmed receipt of the notice in relation to the gas release, adding: "The platform is normally unmanned, however some personnel were on board undertaking maintenance work at the time of the release. There were no injuries to personnel or environmental impact as a result of the release.

“We are currently working to address the requirements of the improvement notice."

The Barque field has two NUIs – Barque PB and Barque PL – each of which is tied back to the Clipper gas field. Both Barque and Clipper are part of the Sole Pit complex, also including the Barque South, Skiff and Galleon fields.