Four transcripts have been handed to Reuters of official accounts from workers who were aboard Chevrons natural gas rig on the 16th of January 2012, when a blowout killed two people and caused a fire which then burned for a further 46 days.
The accounts claim that workers had been pleading with Chevron to be evacuated from the platform due to fears that a disaster was imminent, the accounts then claim Chevron denied the request for evacuation and demanded that drilling continue despite the fact that black smoke was billowing out of a borehole.
The accounts describe a rig full of panic, where each morning the volume of smoke pouring out of the borehole was checked in fear of a pending blowout. A French engineer said that throughout the drilling a series of pump failures led to a huge pressure build-up, which eventually caused the explosion. Rig engineers had advised Chevron to evacuate staff whilst pressures were still manageable, but “that advice was not heeded and additional personnel were even brought aboard to get ahead of what was believed to be impending strike action.”
Another Frenchman on the platform said that every day they “saw thick smoke coming out of the open hole, and we were all scared like hell because we could see a disaster happening any moment yet they (Chevron) did not evacuate us - why, I do not know.” In fact, “this is the reason so many of us survived because we were all aware that it was going to happen, but just didn't know when.”
Omietimi Nana, a maintenance worker on the rig stated that, “about three days before the accident, the drilling company workers told us they wanted to stop drilling because of the gas pressure, but they spoke with Chevron who told them to carry on. Everyone was talking about how the mud weight had been lost but by then it was too late to stop the gas rising to the surface.”
Bruno Marce, the rig manager who died in the blast, made sure that the lifeboats were kept ready for a quick launch, ever fearful that they may be needed at any moment.
Just a few days later the gas pressure spiked, overwhelming the mud weight and allowing gas to escape, covering the rig and sending all workers rushing for the lifeboats.
The French eyewitness said that “the blowout occurred on Monday at 5.30 am, and if Bruno had not advised as he did that the lifeboats be kept serviced and in functional condition then none of us would have made it out alive.”
He described the scene, saying that “Bruno was shouting, but with a very strange voice, over the public address system that everyone should abandon the rig, I really felt for him for if not for his timely intervention myself and others would not have been alive today.”
By the time that he reached the lifeboat, the whole rig was in a cloud of gas. The lifeboat operator tried to call Bruno Marce to ask for permission to launch, but received no reply. The gas caught fire in a deafening explosion as they launched the lifeboat into the sea.
“By the time we hit the water the entire rig was engulfed by fire.”
In response to the damning accounts Chevron has stated that it never actually received any evacuation requests from the rig, and that the staff aboard always maintained the power to halt all work if they truly believed working conditions were unsafe.
In a response to questions from Reuters, Chevron confirmed that “there were no evacuation requests received before the KS Endeavour incident occurred.”
Jake Malloy, head of OILC, the offshore energy branch of the RMT union, explained that the workers were worried that they risked losing their jobs if they shut down well operations without the approval of Chevron. “It appears the Endeavour workforce were reluctant to abandon the rig after the evacuation request was denied for fear of losing their jobs,” he said. He pointed to the fact that Bruno Marce took special efforts to ensure the lifeboats were prepared for a quick launch, as evidence that the danger was well known.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com
For the latest oil prices visit our homepage.