Lessons from Deepwater Horizon

Published:  30 January, 2018

HSE report on fire and explosion issues of the incident in the Gulf of Mexico recommends eliminating reliance on human responses for gas detection.

The UK's Health and Safety Executive commissioned the work to consider the lessons that should be learned from the high-profile incident.

On 20th April 2010 the semi-submersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon suffered a blowout during completion operations at the Macondo Well in the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after hydrocarbons reached the surface, there was at least one powerful explosion, followed by a severe fire. The incident claimed the lives of 11 workers and eventually led to the sinking of the rig.

The Deepwater Horizon incident: fire and explosion issues, deals with the residual risk of blowout and the minimisation of risks from fire and explosions should blowout occur. It is aimed at designers and operators of drilling rigs, focussing on options for ignition frequency reduction as well as fire and blast mitigation that have not been covered sufficiently in other reports.

The document, which is divided into three sections, presents a review of the fire and explosion issues raised by reports on the incident; a summary of the frequency of blowouts and ignitions in various circumstances; and considers the options for reducing ignition frequency and mitigation.

Among the report’s conclusions are that manual responses to gas detection are often much less reliable than automatic systems. Significant risk reduction would be achieved by improving the reliability of detection systems and eliminating reliance on human responses. On the Deepwater Horizon the general rig emergency alarm, which was designed to alert the crew to gas detection, was configured to be manually operated.

The report also emphasises that the ingestion of gas into large spaces deep within the rig should be a priority; and that control of ignition sources across the rig in the event of blowout should be considered in ALARP (as low as reasonably practical) demonstrations.

The report acknowledges that some of the changes suggested as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident can only be implemented at the stage of rig design or major overhaul.

The full report is available here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr1122.pdf

Image credit: US Coast Guard

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