TWO multinational oil companies have repeatedly failed to reduce the risks of major accidents at petrochemical plants in Fife, according to documents released by the
Reports of HSE inspections over the last three years revealed a series of problems at Shell and ExxonMobil’s operations at the Mossmorran and
HSE expressed “serious concerns” about Shell’s failure to replace a potentially leaky seal in 2016, and upbraided the company for staffing “inadequacies” after a leak.
The companies, however, stressed that they had addressed the concerns raised. Shell said it had invested heavily in improvements, and
Both companies are under active investigation by HSE and the
Shell operates a gas extraction plant and
The sites are regularly inspected by HSE as “major accident hazards” because of risks that gases could leak, catch fire and explode. According to the HSE,
HSE has released 17 files amounting to nearly 200 pages on its inspections of Mossmorran and
However, HSE has withheld files on the uncompleted problems, but has provided detailed information on some of those that have been resolved. HSE was particularly worried in
An inspector, whose name has been redacted, was “extremely concerned” that the company dropped one solution because it would cost too much and failed to investigate alternatives. “This does not reflect a business that is well focused on managing risks,” the inspector said.
Two HSE reports mention an investigation into a “loss of containment incident” at Shell’s
This had “highlighted apparent inadequacies in the provision of suitably competent and experienced process, reliability and technical safety engineers with sufficient time available to identify and assess required improvements to controls to prevent a major accident,” an inspector said.
“My concern is that a control room operator may incorrectly diagnose an upset condition, possibly leading to a major accident, due to the current high number of critical alarms,” the inspector said.
According to HSE, Shell delayed replacing secondary seals on the rims of two gasoline tanks from 2013 to 2015 and then again to 2017. An inspector pointed out that Mossmorran was in excess of 20 years old and “what may have been considered ALARP 20-30 years ago, may not be considered ALARP today”.
Shell insisted that it prioritised the safety of its staff, assets and care for the environment. “We take all HSE findings very seriously and we maintain a regular dialogue with the regulator on the safe operation of our sites,” said a company spokesman.
“We have addressed the concerns raised in the inspection reports and we continually focus on, and improve, the integrity and reliability of our assets through the effort of our employees and significant investment.”
He added: “We have invested hundreds of millions of pounds in our facilities over the last few years, upgrading, replacing and maintaining the crucial
The company complied with all applicable regulations, he stated. “We are committed to the highest standards of health and safety.”
He added: “Our operations include regular internal inspections to ensure we maintain our excellent record. This is reflected in the fact that in the past 22 years there have been no serious injuries at all on site.”
The HSE pointed out that inspections of “major hazard” sites involved a detailed examination of multiple layers of protection in place to prevent major accidents.
“This requires operators to demonstrate they have sufficient safety barriers to prevent accidents from escalating and sufficient barriers to mitigate the consequences if a major accident occurs,” said an HSE spokeswoman.
“Where we find issues with individual controls within those protective layers we ensure that they are corrected and take appropriate enforcement action as necessary. If any plant were deemed to be unsafe following inspection because there were failures in all of the safety barriers we would stop operations immediately.”
Sepa stressed that compliance with environmental rules was “non-negotiable”. As well as conducting an investigation with HSE, in June it tightened the operating permits for noise and vibrations from flaring at Mossmorran. “While the investigation is currently ongoing we will continue to listen to the concerns of the local community and are committed to providing updates as this investigation progresses,” said Sepa’s chief executive, Terry A’Hearn.
Copyright Newsquest (Herald & Times) Ltd Jul 8, 2018, source
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