Britain to tighten oil rig standards in wake of blast

November 13, 1990|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Safety regulations on offshore oil rigs in Britain's North Sea are to be tightened in the wake of an official finding yesterday of "unsafe practices" aboard the Piper Alpha rig, which was turned into an inferno in 1988, killing 167 men.

Occidental Petroleum, the U.S. owner of the rig, was charged with being "too easily satisfied" that regulations were being followed at the time of the fatal explosion.

The charge in the official inquiry report also accused the company of failing to provide proper emergency training for its staff and paying insufficient attention to the disaster threat.

The government immediately announced it would accept its recommendations. John Wakeham, energy secretary, told the House of Commons: "It is of the highest importance that the proper principles and measures of safety are not only adopted but put into practice."

Glenn Shurtz, the president of the British branch of Occidental, said the company already had spent $200 million introducing many of the new safety recommendations suggested during the company's in-house investigation, in testimony to the inquiry panel or during the Department of Energy's technical inquiry.

Lord Cullen, who headed the investigation, said official responsibility for oil rig safety should be stripped from the Department of Energy. It will now be shifted to the independent Health and Safety Executive.

The Department of Energy's inspections of the Piper Alpha rig, he said, were "superficial to the point of being of little use as a test of safety."

The last inspections of the platform, a month before the disaster, failed to detect "a number of clear-cut and readily ascertainable deficiencies."

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