Rig Maintenance Costs X Safety First – A Harsh Reality That Must Be Addressed

New Wave Media

September 27, 2010



Petrobras has lately been dealing with serious workers, syndicate, regulatory agency and judicial concerns over the state of some equipment on a few of its older production platforms. How important is safety anyway?

The O&G workers syndicate, “Sindicato dos Petroleiros do Norte Fluminense” (SPNF) has been battling with Petrobras over the state of conservation of some production platforms at the Campos Basin. The main complaints were rusted pipes, usually the ones flowing with water and gas that show advanced stages of rust and also problems with working conditions of various valves and lubrication filters. In some rigs the rust is so pronounced that areas had to be cordoned off as they presented grave danger to workers. This includes stairs, floor grates and safety fences. In these conditons accidents are bound to happen, what is more important safety or a nice low down-time report?
The rigs showing most problems were P-31, P-33, P-35, although these are by no means the only ones worrying workers, syndicates and authorities. It´s important to note that this is the first time ever, that massive syndicate action forced the company to review its stance, the first time EVER that a Petrobras rig had its operations suspended due to safety issues.
Along a few weeks last month SPNF held meetings during shift changes at various rigs, calling for stricter control and for workers to undertake what is known as standard operations “operação padrão” in Portuguese. In this standard operation, workers abide to all the safety measures that are established as normal procedure but not always followed by rig management.
The simple fact that this kind of desperate action is felt necessary by the workers, should be more than enough to elicit immediate preventive action by the company, not to mention the national regulatory agency and the government. It is a testament to the legacy of the Deepwater Horizon and the rare worldwide media exposure it received, that these offshore crews, silent for so long, finally stood their ground.  Various rigs joined in and it became quite a serious matter, even if not all the problems were immediately dangerous. Safety must come first! The way these problems are being dealt with reeks of gross negligence (by individual rig management) and a worrying disregard for human lives and the environment.
After all the pressure from the syndicate and extensive news coverage in Brazil (although hardly any international coverage), ANP (The National Petroleum Agency) and Navy inspectors examined first rig P-33, located over the Marlim field at the Campos Basin. After the inspection, the rig had its operations suspended by the inspectors due to safety issues, which along with the problems stated above also included non functioning escape craft and an explosion on July 14th, which surprisingly and fortunately left no casualties.
Well I have been at sea in one capacity or another in large and medium ships for a long time. From the facts that I gathered, the situation is serious. Safety should and must always come first, and this is not what is happening in all the production rigs in Brazil. It cannot be overlooked, as it involves human lives (and deaths) and massive environmental concerns. Even today these matters, when they become public, are being treated as a one off. It isn´t, it´s an endemic problem that needs to be efficiently addressed or there will be hell to pay. There is money enough out there in the O&G business in Brazil, so as that these stated problems could be overcome by higher investments in maintenance, even if it means slightly lower profits, there is no excuse!
Or is profit, all that matters, and damn the rest?
Claudio Paschoa
Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.
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