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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Previous projects > Research and Society > Fewer fires for offshore oil platforms
Graphic element Fewer fires for offshore oil platforms
     
 
A European consortium has made a significant contribution to the safety of offshore oil and gas rigs. By developing new software and design methodologies, the partners in this Brite-Euram project have allowed greater fire safety to be incorporated at the drawing board stage. This new technology is also being taken up by naval architects, who see its potential for improving safety on ships.
 

In July 1988, graphic television footage showed the horror of the fire on the North Sea offshore platform, Piper Alpha. The death toll from that disaster was high: 167 people lost their lives. As in the case of a plane crash, the incident was fully analysed, and regulatory authorities tried to learn from the tragedy. The result was a complete re-thinking about the safety of offshore structures.
Bodies such as the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive embarked on a process which, it is hoped, will prevent any recurrence of Piper Alpha. They recognised the need to design in greater safety measures at the construction stage. New software and methodologies were required to reduce fire risk and optimise hazard assessment.

Analysing the risks....

This driving force led to the instigation and implementation of a successful pan-European project, supported by the European Commission, under the BRITE-EURAM programme. The catalyst was the introduction, in 1990, of new UK requirements for safety on offshore structures. Included in this legislation was the necessity of carrying out risk analysis of the various types of incident that could occur. Certificates - the equivalent of those given to ships for seaworthiness - would only be granted if the operator of an offshore structure could demonstrate that any risks associated with the design and operation were kept to the minimum reasonable level.
As Piper Alpha demonstrated, one major risk is that of fire, and a key objective of the new safety requirements was to minimise injuries and deaths if it occurred. This project set out to tackle exactly that point.
The project was co-ordinated by the Italian Classification Society (RINA), and included partners from Denmark, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The partners' roles were well defined and tailored to their particular fields of expertise: skills in safety regulations were provided by RINA and Germanischer Lloyd, both being certification and classification organisations. Tecnomare possessed offshore installation design know-how, Snamprogretti had considerable experience in risk analysis of petrochemical plants, and WS Atkins and the UK Atomic Energy Authority were active in two areas: structural engineering design and risk analysis. Completing the line-up of partners were the Technical Institute of the University of Lisbon, and the Institute for Computational Safety and Reliability, which both brought computing skills to the table.

....developing a concept....

According to the project co-ordinator, Mario Dogliani, the main focus of the project was structural engineering. "One of the important requirements was to develop the concept of a safe refuge," he explains. "If there is a major fire or explosion, there must be a shelter on the structure where people can gather until the rescue services arrive. One goal of our risk analysis was to determine the best position for such a refuge and to optimise its design."
Project tasks were divided into three main themes: collecting data (such as the type of requirements demanded by relevant legislation and the capability of existing methodologies and software), devising new analytical computing tools, and using these tools in the development of new structural designs.
"The computing tools were important," says Dogliani. "They perform two major functions: first we needed to develop the capability of modelling an incident, such as a pipe rupture, then we had to analyse the potential consequences of such an incident." In the real world, this is a more complex concept than you might imagine. Major occurrences, according to Dogliani, are rarely the result of one large incident. They are usually caused by two or more small, unlikely, unrelated problems happening simultaneously and having a knock-on effect.

....and implementing the results

"The trick then," continues Dogliani, "is to take this theoretical knowledge and apply it to real cases. We did this in two ways. Firstly, we used the risk analyses to produce a new set of rules for designers, and we wrote software to help them achieve the new specifications. Secondly, we were able to show that the use of information-based optimisation data was a much more powerful design tool than had previously been realised."
The results have not gone unnoticed. "We believe that some major oil companies are using them in their rig design procedure," says Dogliani, "but it's not easy to know exactly how, or to what extent because they are very cagey. We also know that there is a good deal of interest from naval architects, who are aiming to design safer ships." Technology borne of a disaster could make sea travel just that bit safer.

Cordis RCN: 4627
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