Varanus Island report

WA Mines and Petroleum Minister Norman Moore has released the long-awaited report into the 2008 Varanus Island failure.  The government announcement is here, with a link to the report itself at the bottom.

The report is very wide-ranging and extends to nearly 500 pages (including numerous appendices) and so far I have only read the executive summary and skimmed major section headings.  Suffice to say it is very impressive – I recommend a look by anyone interested in management of technical safety of pipelines or other major hazard industries.

The authors have fully taken on board the principles of the sociology of safety and make extensive use of the work of people such as Andrew Hopkins (well known for “Lessons from Longford” and other works including his contributions to the EnergyPipelines CRC) and James Reason (originator of the “Swiss Cheese” failure model among other more notable achievements).  This reinforces the importance of the work of Energy Pipelines CRC Research Program 4 on the sociology of safety as applied to pipelines.

The report puts a great deal of emphasis on the regulatory regime and is quite critical:  “We encountered a confusing mishmash of jurisdictional, legal, process and regulatory interfaces upon which was overlaid poor relationships among regulators. In such an environment, even serious operator shortcomings were far less likely to be found and addressed to reduce the risk of a major accident event.”  It is equally critical of Apache (operator and major shareholder of the Varanus Island plant and failed pipeline).

I have previously written in glowing terms about the US National Transportation Safety Board and its impressive independence and skills, with a follow-up post on what a good accident investigation should include.  So I find it particularly interesting that the very first recommendation of the Varanus Island report is “… establishment of a properly resourced independent national safety investigation body to investigate serious offshore oil and gas and onshore petroleum pipeline accidents and incidents. The body should be empowered to compel documents and witnesses and be required to make public a professional systemic no-blame investigation report that is appropriately protected from legal action for the purpose of improving future safety.

Now that it is out in the open I think the ramifications of this important report will bounce around the hydrocarbon industry for quite some time.

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3 Responses to Varanus Island report

  1. Chris Hughes says:

    From the WA Government press release;
    “The Minister told the House that the report was highly critical of Apache, particularly regarding the company’s technical and operational failings as the operator. He said the investigators were also critical of State and Commonwealth regulators at the time.”

    Having read the Exec Summary and the Recommendations, I would say that the report was more about regulation problems than it was about Apache – the ES suggests that the state of regulation at the time made it almost inevitable that an accident would occur.

  2. petertuft says:

    The report certainly concentrates a lot on the problems with regulation, but I suspect that might be at least partly because it is more complex than the immediate cause of the failure and partly because that is the area where the WA Government can take direct action in response.

    In the original post I didn’t dwell on the technical aspects of the failure but it seems pretty straightforward. The original NOPSA report (Annex 1 to the Bills & Agostini report) provides facts from which any pipeline engineer can draw their own conclusions. The failure was at the shore crossing, where the pipeline was subject to a corrosive environment but not protected by CP because it was not buried. There had been only two documented visual inspections of the line between 1992 and 2008 (p 178 of Annex 1). The line had not been subject to in-line inspection (Apache “had not intelligently pigged the 12 inch SGL despite information from standards, industry better practice and the recommendations to do so”, paragraph 2.24 of the Bills & Agostini report.) The nominal pipe thickness was 11.1 mm but at the point of failure had been reduced by corrosion to significantly less than 3 mm at some points (p 168-9 of Annex 1).

  3. Philip Venton says:

    Thanks Peter, I’ve been waiting for this report.
    There is not much hope while Apache uses legal methods to avoid its responsibilities by things like the subtelty of “pipework” rather than “pipeline”, and says that they thought the pipeline was in good condition, but never attempted to measure its condition through the use of in-line inspection.
    This seems like the Americab way, where the only way an organisation will attempt to do more than the minimum is for it to be legislated.
    Australia’s approach of requiring the Licensee to be wholly responsible for the integrity of the pipeline, and for him to do everything necessary to be able to demonstrate this should continue to minimise the likelihood of such significant (and localised) loss of integrity causing failure to our onshore pipelines (but only where the organisations appreciate the gravity of this obligation).

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