Hibernia reconfiguring lifeboats

Oil companies looking for exemption from 200 per cent lifeboat rule

Moira Baird mbaird@thetelegram.com
Published on October 1, 2010

The Hibernia consortium is looking for an exemption from regulations that require the production platform to have twice as many lifeboat seats as there are offshore workers.

And they’d like that exemption to be a permanent one — citing the unique design of the Hibernia gravity base structure (GBS) that sits on the ocean floor.

Under offshore regulations, oil rigs and production platforms operating off Newfoundland and Labrador must have 200 per cent lifeboat capacity for the maximum number of employees aboard each installation.

The Hibernia Management and Development Co. (HMDC) is proposing a lifeboat capacity of 163 per cent.

Hibernia’s covered lifeboats were designed to hold 72 people, but actually hold 54 people.

The problem is, offshore workers and their survival suits are larger than the international standard size used to design lifeboats and the seating space allotted to each person.

On April 8, HMDC filed a request for an exemption from the regulation, according to a copy of that application obtained by The Telegram.

“HMDC proposes to manage the personnel on board the Hibernia platform to meet a performance standard for lifeboat availability instead of the prescriptive requirement for 200 per cent capacity,” read the request.

“The Hibernia platform safety functions are designed on the basis that personnel will remain on the platform for the majority of incidents.

“Only where the offshore installation manager considers personnel to be safer leaving the platform than remaining on it, would the order to abandon the platform be given.

“Platform evacuation is, therefore, considered to be an extreme and infrequent event.”

The proposal

HMDC proposes making changes to its eight lifeboats — increasing their capacity to 57 people.

That would mean 456 lifeboat seats would be available for the 280 people, the maximum number allowed on the Hibernia platform when it’s producing oil.

Under the regulations, there would have to be 560 seats.

HMDC isn’t commenting publicly on the exemption request it made to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB), which regulates the province’s offshore oil industry.

“This matter is currently under review by the CNLOPB and we are awaiting their response,” Margot Bruce O’Connell, spokeswoman for HMDC, wrote via e-mail.

“There’s been no decision made on that yet,” said Sean Kelly, spokesman for the CNLOPB.

“When we have a decision, we’ll post it on our website.”

Bigger passengers

Offshore companies around the world are upsizing their lifeboat and evacuation systems.

At issue is the international standard — known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) — that is used to design lifeboats and evacuation systems.

The SOLAS standard set the average weight of a person in a lifeboat at 165 pounds (or 75 kg).

The average male offshore worker in the province is closer to 220 pounds (100 kg). For women, it’s 170 pounds (77 kg).

“A survey of the personnel typically travelling to the Hibernia platform found the average weight, including the weight of survival suit and its ancillary equipment, to be 100 kg,” said the HMDC request.

“The lifeboat manufacturer recommends that the maximum carrying capacity per boat taking into account the revised average weight per person is 54 with the lifeboat lifting frame on the lifeboat and 57 when the lift frame is removed.

“HMDC (has) revised the lifeboat carrying capacity in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations. This impacts the maximum personnel on board if the 200-per-cent capacity requirement is maintained.”

Not the first time

The Hibernia request is the third time an offshore oil company in the province has applied for an exemption.

Husky Energy, operator of the White Rose oilfield, and Suncor Energy, operator of the Terra Nova oilfield, have previously requested similar exemptions.

Both were granted on a temporary basis.

Offshore regulations require each installation operating off Newfoundland to have “two or more totally enclosed survival craft that have a combined carrying capacity of at least 200 per cent of the total number of persons on board the installation at any one time.”

In April, the CNLOPB cited a potential safety issue with lifeboats — noting a 2008 report by the U.K. Health and Safety Executive, an independent watchdog for workplace health and safety issues in Britain.

HSE recommended placing weight limits on the number of people in lifeboats or replacing the evacuation systems with those designed for heavier loads.

Based on that, the CNLOPB asked oil companies in this province to take a closer look at their own evacuation systems.

“All operators and installation owners shall base the evacuation capacity of their totally enclosed survival craft and inflatable life rafts upon an average individual weight of 100 kg, which includes the weight of the average immersion suit,” said the CNLOPB safety notice.

A different make

Unlike the Terra Nova and White Rose oilfields that use floating production ships, the Hibernia GBS sits on the seabed.

The two production ships have an equal number of lifeboats on the starboard and port sides. That redundancy is required in case a production ship lists to one side, preventing access to the lifeboats.

Three-quarters of Hibernia’s eight covered lifeboats are located on the south side of the platform where the living quarters are located.

The remaining two are on the north side, where the processing equipment is located.

“As a fixed platform, listing of the platform preventing safe access to any of the lifeboats is unlikely,” said the HMDC request.

mbaird@thetelegram.com

On Saturday, The Telegram will report on Husky Energy’s efforts to upsize its lifeboats