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BUNCEFIELD AND DEEP WATER DISASTERS
The Buncefield Oil Depot Explosion occurred in 2005 December 12th. There were several explosions, but the main one was at 06:01:32. There was an enormous fire that engulfed more than twenty large storage tanks. Forty three people were injured during the incident. The injuries were not serious, and there were no fatalities. Significant damage was experienced to both residential and commercial properties. Approximately 2,000 individuals were evacuated. The fire continued for five days, emitting large smoke plumes into the atmosphere and destroying the site. The smoke was dispersed beyond Southern England, and fuel supply England was disrupted.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion occurred on 20th April, 2010. There was a consequent fire on the MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit). Eleven workers were killed, and sixteen others injured. Ninety nine people survived without grave physical injuries. The explosion made the Deepwater Horizon to sink after burning. Consequently, there was a massive Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill. The explosion is regarded the 2nd largest in United States after Dust Bowl.
This article aims at comparing the Buncefield and Deepwater disasters in relation to the root causes, responses to the emergencies, identifying common themes and the lessons learnt. In particular, issues related to inherent safety of the design, human factors, operating procedures, staff preparedness for protection and emergency responders in the event of an emergency will be discussed.
The Buncefield disaster was as a result of maintenance and design failures in both liquid containment and overfilling protection systems. These are the technical causes for the explosion and pollutants seepage in to the environment. However, there are the root causes that underlie these immediate failings. The management systems at HOSL in regard to tank filling were deficient and not adhered to irrespective of the fact that the systems were audited independently. Secondly, prior to the incident, there has pressure increase on the staff (Control of Major Accident Hazards, 2005). Three pipelines fed the site. However, the control room staff had minimum control over two of the pipelines in regard to timing of receipt and flow rates. This implies that staff did not possess adequate information easily accessible to enable them precisely manage the incoming fuel storage. Thirdly, there was a throughput increase at the site. This led to more pressure on staff and site management, and degraded their capability to monitor storage and receipt of fuel. These pressures cumulatively fashioned a culture where maintaining the process of operation was the key focus. Process safety was never given the priority, resources and attention it required.
On the other hand, BP’s 2010 September report states that the Deep water disaster started with a failure in well integrity. Consequently, there was control loss of fluid pressure in the well. The blow preventer is a device that should seal the well automatically in cases of loss of control. However, it failed to engage. Hydrocarbons shot up at a rate that was uncontrollable and ignited, resulting to an explosion series on the rig.
Agencies that responded to Buncefield disaster include Health Protection Agency, Environment Agency, Dacorum Borough Council, Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire Police and Fire and Rescue Services from Hertfordshire. As opposed to Deepwater disaster, more stakeholders responded at Buncefield. Thirty two other brigades supported the efforts. On December 12th when the fire was at the peak, one hundred and eighty fire fighters were active on the site. They used foam concentrate more than 750,000 liters, water (55 million liters) and a 30 Km high- volume hose.
With the Deepwater disaster, it too quite some time to stem the flow of oil. Ten different methods were utilized to try plugging the leak. This started with struggles of using a remotely operated car to block the blowout preventer. Consequently, efforts were made to capture the oil that was discharging from the riser through dropping a top hat. Next, engineers tried to end the well through blocking the blow- out preventer using heavy mud. All these efforts did not succeed. Finally, engineers managed to bolt a fastening cap over the blow- out preventer. This offered an impermanent fix till engineers pumped heavy kill cement and mud in the well to minimize pressure at well head, as well as seal the flow paths permanently. The having started on April 20th, capping was managed on July 15th and permanent sealing accomplished on September 19th 2010 (Control of Major Accident Hazards, 2005).
From the Buncefield and Deepwater disasters, two common themes are evident. First, effective auditing systems should be put in place to test management systems quality and ensure the systems are effective and utilized on the ground. Secondly, at the central of chief business hazard management should be positive and clear process safety leadership. In it should be competence and board- level management to ensure proper management of key hazard risks.
Enough emergency arrangements should be ensured prior to the occurrence of an incident. According to Bryant(2011), risk assessment in a site should give foresight to formulate response plans. For environmental protection of credible accident scenarios, risk assessments need to identify all off- and on- environmental receptor pathways so that measures to minimize environmental impact are exercised, maintained, implemented and planned. Emergency responders should have access to updated drainage plans during and before an incident. Spill response contracts should be in place prior to incidents. Moreover, method statements and risk assessment should be tested, agreed and prepared before incidents. Hence, it is possible to avail and resource suitable emergency response actions. Environment protection measures should coincide with human health protection.
From the Buncefield disaster, several lessons can be drawn. First, there should be the availability of resources and time for process safety. The pressures that managers and staff experience should be comprehended and managed so that they are able to apply systems and procedures necessary for safe operation. Secondly, there should be a culture and systems that detect failure signals in safety crucial equipment and respond to them effectively and quickly. In the Buncefield incident, there were clear indications that the gadget was faulty for purpose. However, no one questioned, and a permanent fixture should have been attempted as opposed to temporary fixes. Thirdly, it is imperative that there is a clear comprehension of principal accident risks as well as the safety critical systems and equipment designed for their control. The understanding should be from the top management to all employees, and between organizations dealing with operation, maintenance, installation and supply of the controls.
From the Deepwater disaster, there are several lessons to be learnt. First, there should be adequate safety standards. The disaster could have been prevented in case the prevailing progressive practices and guidelines had been followed (Continuity Central, 2012). Functional safety cultures are extremely vital and should be followed. There was a combination of deeply flawed signal analysis and failure, organizational- managerial processes, communication and decision making which compromised safety until there was a blow- out with catastrophic impacts. Hence, employees should be empowered with effective decision making and communication skills so as to prevent such occurrences in the future. Contingency plans for handling catastrophic oil spills should not have miscalculations and errors.
It is worth noting that all key hazard sites are different. However, there are similar threads to their management. The managerial failings identified at Deepwater and Buncefield disasters are common on other key incidences. The gas explosion report in 1998 at Longford, Australia identified factors linked to the incident which were also found at Deepwater and Buncefield. These include lack of management change processes’ implementation, inadequate engineering expertise at the site and poor communication particularly during shift handover.
The management should always be keen on aIDressing safety critical process measures. In both disasters, the management ought to have been aware that process welfare protection structures should not depend on alarm’s operator response. Furthermore, overfill protection and normal operational monitoring should be independent.
Top management in sites should be aware that the high standards required from safety critical equipment operators equally apply to all equipment suppliers. Those involved in maintenance, installation, manufacturers and designers should possess adequate knowledge concerning the environment where the equipment is used. In both cases, people involved were unable to make ethical judgments regarding the standards required to apply their work. Operational process controls and maintenance, installation, and design are equally indispensable.
Bryant, B. (2011). Deepwater Horizon and the Gulf oil spill the key questions answered. Retrieved on 20th September, 2011 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/apr/20/deepwater-horizon-key- questions-answered
Continuity Central. (2012). New report highlights key lessons from the Buncefield disaster. Retrieved on 20th September from http://www.continuitycentral.com/news05609.html
Control of Major Accident Hazards. (2005). Buncefield: Why did it happen? Retrieved on 20th September from www.hse.gov.uk/comah/buncefield/buncefield-report.pdf
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