National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA SAFETY CENTER
SYSTEM FAILURE CASE STUDY
M ay 2013 Volume 7 Issue 4
The Case for Safety
Simultaneous maintenance work
on the pump and safety valve
resulted in a condensate leak.
The Cullen Inquiry resulted in 106
recommendations for changes to
North Sea safety procedures—all
of which were accepted by the
The Health and Safety Executive
was to bear responsibility for
North Sea safety moving forward,
replacing the Department of
Energy’s obligation, based on
a conflict of interest for one
organization to oversee both
production and safety.
The North Sea Piper Alpha Disaster
July 6, 1988, Piper Oilfield, North Sea: As shifts changed and the night crew aboard Piper Alpha assumed duties for the evening, one of the platform’s two condensate pumps failed. The crew worked to resolve the issue before platform production was affected. But unknown to the night shift, the failure occurred only hours after a critical pressure safety valve had just been removed from the other condensate pump system and was temporarily replaced with a hand-tightened blind flange. As the night crew turned on the alternate condensate pump system, the blind flange failed under the high pressure, resulting in a chain reaction of explosions and failures across Piper Alpha that killed 167 workers in the world’s deadliest offshore oil industry disaster.
Constructed for oil collection by McDermott
Engineering and operated by Occidental
Group, Piper Alpha was located 120 miles
northeast of Aberdeen, Scotland. It began
exporting oil from the Piper Oilfield (discovered
in 1973) to the Flotta Terminal on the Orkney
Isles in 1976. Modular in design, the four main
operating areas of the platform were separated
by firewalls designed to withstand oil fires,
and arranged so that...
References: Any misrepresentation or improper use of source material is unintentional.
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