Safe offshore drilling maintaining Standards in a difficult environment

Issue 38 – May 2012

Offshore drilling is a dangerous activity where a harsh environment is combined with hazardous substances and operational equipment that is capable of causing fires or explosion. Safety on offshore installations relies largely on the proper and safe interaction of equipment and human factors. The International Electrotechnical Commission's (IEC's) technical committee (TC) 18: Electrical installations of ships and of mobile and fixed offshore units, prepares international Standards for the industry.

Equipment failures…

25 March 2012: A gas leak forces the evacuation of the Elgin offshore platform in the North Sea; all on board are evacuated. It may take up to 6 months to halt the flow of oil and gas from the well and will cost billions of dollars in lost production and clean-up, the operator says.

21 April 2010: An explosion on a semi-submersible offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico kills 11 and injures 16. Some 5 million barrels of oil are released, costing tens of billions of dollars in compensation and clean-up expenses.

These two disasters, resulting from equipment or installation failures, illustrate the major risks and costs that may be encountered in the operation of offshore rigs. Many other less serious accidents, which do not halt production, cause environmental damage, result in many human deaths or inflict severe injuries, go largely unreported.

Thirst for fossil fuels industry

Offshore crude oil production, which started in the 1940s, has grown 25-fold since the 1960s to become the main source of growth for world oil production. Onshore extraction from mature fields inland has essentially reached a plateau during the last 2 decades. Natural gas is the world's fastest growing fossil energy source; a significant share of production is also being met by offshore installations.

This expansion of the sector drives the construction of offshore units. In 2010, there were 767 rigs, with 59 more projected for 2011, according to the International Union of Marine Insurance. Damage claims for losses are growing as a direct result of the surge in the construction of more units to meet the demand for deep-water drilling.

When safety is an issue – call in the IEC

Proper electric installations are central to the safe operation of offshore units; IEC TC18 develops Standards for such installations in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The seven Standards in the IEC 61892 Mobile and fixed offshore units – Electrical installations series help to enable safety in the design, selection, installation, maintenance, and use of electrical equipment for the generation, storage, distribution, and use of electrical energy for all purposes in offshore units, which are being used for exploration or exploitation of petroleum resources.

Latest additions raise offshore safety

Two Standards in the IEC 61892 series were released in March 2012. The second edition of IEC61892-2 contains provisions for all aspects of system design for offshore installations. The third edition of IEC 61892-3 deals with equipment, covering everything from generators and motors to transformers, from switchgear and control gear assemblies, to secondary cells and batteries, or from communication and control to underwater systems, to name just a few.

Updated Standards maintain standards

The seven Standards of the IEC 61892 series meet the IMO's Code for the construction and equipment of mobile offshore drilling units (MODU Code) and are referenced by only three national regulatory bodies, but they are widely used by oil companies and major drilling contractors. The latest additions will ensure the series remains up to date and will contribute to greater safety in the offshore industry, at least in one of its aspects, as it depends on many factors other than electrical safety alone.

To review the full IEC 61892 series of Standards, visit www.standards.co.nz, enter '61892' in the catalogue search field, and click 'IEC'. Members of Standards New Zealand receive a 20% discount on all Standards. For more information, visit our membership page or call 0800 782 632 during business hours.

Summarised from IEC's 'e-tech', April 2012.

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