Norway: Risk of Fatal Platform Accidents Up

The risk of being killed on a Norwegian offshore platform increased last year, even though the general safety standards were improving or stable, the national Petroleum Safety Authority warned Tuesday.

In its annual assessment of offshore safety, the state regulatory agency said several serious incidents last year caused an increase in the index it uses to measure the risk of losing lives in a major accident.

"In spite of the fact that 2004 revealed a disturbing development as regards the risk of loss of life in connection with major accidents, this report shows that determined work on central risk factors does pay off," said authority director Magne Ognedal in presenting the report at a news conference.

So while the chances of an accident have declined, the risk of death in the event that there is an accident has increased, the report said.

He said other measures of the overall risk of a major accident had declined or were stable in 2004, such as a reduction in oil and natural gas leaks to the lowest level since 1996. Such leaks, especially of natural gas, can be catastrophic if ignited, potentially causing an explosion and fire that could consume an offshore platform and cost lives among its crew.

The authority said one incident that caused it to increase its "risk of life" index was a Nov. 28 natural gas blowout aboard the Snorre offshore platform, operated by the state-controlled oil company Statoil ASA.

The Snorre A was shut down after a gas leak that resulted in the evacuation of 180 workers. Although no one was injured, the authority earlier said had the gas caught fire it would have been one of the worst disasters in Norwegian offshore history.

The platform remained shut down for nearly two months, costing about 6.2 percent of the 3.2 million barrel-per-day oil capacity that makes Norway the world's third largest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Other incidents mentioned were a collision between a supply ship and an oil drilling rig, and a rig losing its anchor chains in bad weather.

Personal injuries on oil installations had been rising in the late 1990s, and reached a peak in 2000, and then began to decline, reaching the lowest level since 1990 last year. The agency also noted that there were no fatal accidents on the offshore fields last year. (C) Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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