Cutbacks and haste spell danger on Northern Endeavour

Maintenance cutbacks and pressure to resume production made the Northern Endeavour oil vessel a dangerous place to work.

Cutbacks and haste spell danger on Northern Endeavour

This story was originally published in The West Australian on 9 February 2018 with the headline "Triple failures in Northern Endeavour report." © Peter Milne.

Maintenance reductions, a rush to restart production and a failure to act after a similar incident contributed to a worker nearly being killed on the Northern Endeavour oil production facility in the Timor Sea last February according to a report by the vessel operator.

An almost 4kg piece of corroded piping fell 8m and landed within 1.5m of a worker who had gone to investigate unusual loud banging noises coming from equipment being started up.

The worker would most likely have died if struck by the object, according to a detailed investigation report by operator Upstream Production Solutions lodged with the oil and gas industry safety regulator NOPSEMA.

WestBusiness obtained the UPS report after a Freedom of Information request to NOPSEMA.

The 273m Northern Endeavour has produced oil for more than 18 years from the Laminaria and Corallina fields about 550km north-west of Darwin.

Northern Oil and Gas Australia bought the vessel and fields from Woodside in a deal in April 2016 reported to be worth $100 million to $300 million. Woodside continued to operate the vessel until UPS, which is contracted by NOGA, took over in September 2016.

The UPS report approved by NOGA identified the causes of the incident as a significant amount of elevated corroded equipment and a lack of action after an earlier so-called dropped object incident.

The report stated that maintenance was minimised due to plans to abandon the vessel in 2016. Corrosion that was not critical to production was monitored rather than dealt with and equipment no longer in use was not monitored for corrosion at all. This lack of inspection continued after UPS took over as operator.

The valve shroud that dropped near the worker was unused equipment and later inspection revealed three severely corroded valve shrouds were "in a state of failure".

A smaller dropped object incident in October 2016 resulted in a recommendation to review risks from dropped objects. The review was mistakenly not done by UPS, so an opportunity to identify the corroded valve shrouds was missed.

Woodside did not respond to questions about whether it had intended to abandon the Northern Endeavour and if this affected maintenance plans.

A Woodside spokeswoman said the company was committed to properly maintaining its facilities and it operated the Northern Endeavour under a safety case that "included a description for Inspection and maintenance as part of management of corrosion".

A safety case document describes how an operator identifies and controls risks and is accepted by NOPSEMA if the risks are reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable.

The valve shroud fell when it did due to severe vibration of the equipment when it was started up without following the standard operating procedure.

The report stated: "At the time of the incident there was a high level of perceived pressure from management to re-establish normal rates of crude production."

This perception contributed to the deviation from normal practice, according to the report.

UPS and NOGA were asked why the workforce perceived pressure to restart production.

Spokespeople for both companies said all of the required safety cultures, procedures and practices were in place.

NOGA owns the Northern Endeavour, its only producing asset. NOGA is owned by its managing director Angus Karoll.

Main image: Northern Endeavour in the Timor Sea. Source: Northern Oil and Gas Australia Pty Ltd.