Monday, August 30, 2010


On Friday August 20th at around 12:30pm the BP owned/managed deep water oil rig, Constellation, which is the furthest rig off Trinidad's south east coast, suffered an electrical failure. By that I mean that all electricity on the rig was completely lost. As I understand it, a complete failure of electrical power to an oil rig is potentially very dangerous because amongst other things there can be no monitoring of the oil and gas lines and there can be an unobserved or un-monitored build up of pressure in the pipeline which can result in an explosion. And we are only too painfully aware of what happened to a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It is sometimes forgotten that not only was there the worst oil spill in history, but something like eleven workers lost their lives in that explosion.

I do not know why there was a loss of power on the Constellation rig. In other words, I do not know whether the loss of power was as the result of poor maintenace of the generators, whether it was the result of human error, or whether it was completely unavoidable ... one of those things that no matter what you do it's going to happen. What I do know is that BP was unable to get the power going on the rig until some eleven hours later (more or less). Power was finally restored around 11:30pm.

So, what's the big deal? Well, the big deal as far as I am concerned is that there were about a hundred and twenty-five men on board the rig when power was lost just after mid day. BP did
not make the call to the helicopter services to evacuate the men until about 6:30pm ... just at around sunset. And as a result, the first helicopters did not arrive at the rig to begin evacuating the men until around 8:30pm. In addition calling late, the weather was very bad. One helicopter pilot told me "well, I earned my salary for the last three years" on that Friday night. He said that the wind and rain hampered the helicopter rescue. I asked him when was the latest that (in his professional opinion) that BP should have made the call for the helicopters. "About 4:30pm", he said. So why didn't they call before, I asked? Should they have been aware of the approaching bad weather and shouldn't they have been concerned to have got the men off the rig as quickly as possible? He said that he preferred not to speculate as to why BP didn't act earlier, but that yes, anybody in that business, in that situation ought to have been aware of the approaching bad weather, the approaching darkness, the time that it would take to evacuate the rig, and the danger to the men remaining on the rig without electricity. If there was no danger to the men then there would have been no need to mount an expensive rescue operation. He said that when power was finally restored the helicopters had removed all save about ten or eleven men.

There are obviously very serious questions to answer here. There is also a very serious need to monitor not only BP but all of the oil companies operating in our waters. Are they (the oil companies) cutting corners when it comes to safety? Are they paying close attention to the safety of their workers? What about the potential for pollution? The matter is serious and quite frankly I consider it a matter of grave concern that BP made no statement whatsoever on this near disaster. (At least, if they did I saw nothing of it in the newspapers.) One inference to be drawn is that the company did not want to draw attention to it and thereby avoid potentially embarassing and troubling questions. But, is the avoiding of having to answer potentially emabarrassing questions more important than the health and safety of a human life?

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