In 2020, it is 40 years since the Alexander L Kielland disaster. Through videos and reports, we explain how this accident led to improvements in safety – and its significance for today’s work on safe operation.

Video: The Kielland legacy

 

Norway’s oil adventure began long before dedicated safety regulations were put in place for the industry, with the first exploration well being drilled on the NCS in 1966.

It was not until 1970 that a committee was appointed to draw up offshore safety rules, and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) began work only in 1973.

The loss of the Kielland proved a turning point in organising the regulatory regime for the petroleum sector, with the Petroleum Act coming into force five years later in 1985.

One of its innovations was to give the NPD the job of coordinating supervisory activities by government agencies in this field to achieve a better overview of their work.

The PSA was established as a separate regulator in 2004 on the basis of the NPD’s former safety division.

Central

Efforts aimed at preventing a major accident are extensive and demanding, and play a central role in safety work on the NCS today.

Accident prevention begins as early as the drawing board, with the way a facility is designed and built. The precautionary principle applies from here on in.

Combined with risk understanding and understanding of barrier principles, this is crucial for the industry’s work in preventing major accidents and personal injury.

The interaction between humans, technology and organisation is complex – and understanding it is basic to these protective efforts.

Norwegian daily Dagbladet 28 March 1980
“All hope gone” reads this headline in Oslo daily Dagbladet from 29 March 1980. No accident in the Norwegian petroleum industry caused more fatalities than the Alexander L Kielland disaster. Photo: Faksimile fra Dagbladet 28.3.1980

Allocating responsibility represents another of today’s key concepts. The operator companies have a clearly defined overall duty to take care of safety in their operations.

That means prevention, the right priorities and systematic daily work to block accidents. Constant learning and applying the lessons properly are also very important for reducing risk.

Prepared

Good emergency preparedness is crucial in avoiding the worst imaginable incidents. Being prepared includes ensuring that people can be rescued quickly and efficiently from danger.

The Kielland disaster clearly showed what can otherwise happen. Any operator of oil-related platforms, rigs and land plants today must comply with strict demands for emergency plans.

Evacuation offshore can be conducted with helicopters, lifeboats and nearby vessels, in close cooperation with the rescue centres and health services on land.

Research

A number of research projects were initiated after the Kielland incident, including work to improve lifeboats. These differ fundamentally today from the ones used in 1980, and the regulations require 200 per cent lifeboat coverage on all facilities.

During the 1970s, it was up to each company to decide whether employees should be kitted out with survival suits offshore. Only a few people on Kielland had them.

Soon after the incident, the government made it mandatory for everyone on an offshore facility to have such a garment. Two per person have to be available today.

Over the years, high-tech and specially tailored suits have been developed. These can store heat, for example. And dedicated versions are available for use in Arctic waters.

During the 1970s, it was up to each company to decide whether employees should be kitted out with survival suits offshore. Only a few people on Kielland had them. Soon after the incident, the government made it mandatory for everyone on an offshore facility to have such a garment. Two per person have to be available today. Photo: Marie Von Krogh

Accidents before and after Kielland

A number of major accidents and serious incidents have occurred both on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) and elsewhere, before and after the Alexander L Kielland disaster.

This list is not a complete overview, but all have been particularly significant for safety developments in Norway. The number of fatalities involved in each case is shown in brackets.

1973: Ekofisk, helicopter crash (4)
1975: Ekofisk, rescue capsule (3)
1976: Deep Sea Driller, wreck (6)
1977: Ekofisk Bravo, oil blowout (0)
1977: Ekofisk, helicopter crash (12)
1978: Statfjord A, fire (5)
1978: Statfjord A, helicopter crash (18)
1980: Alexander L Kielland, wreck (123)
1983: Byford Dolphin, diver accident (5)
1988: Piper Alpha (UK), gas blowout and fire (167)
1991: Ekofisk, helicopter crash (3)
1997: Norne, helicopter crash (12)
2004: Snorre A, gas blowout (0)
2005: Texas City (USA), explosion (15)
2010: Deepwater Horizon (USA), blowout and fire (11)
2016: Turøy, helicopter crash (13)

In addition to lives lost in major offshore accident, many people have died as a result of occupational accidents.

Read how the Kielland disaster has influenced safety