Why are oil platforms so dangerous

"There were over 1000 alarm signals in the first 17 minutes"

"There was a phone call: a major accident off the Brazilian coast. And then I immediately called my Brazilian colleagues and gathered all the facts about the platform and followed the events."

... remembers Jörg Feddern, energy expert at Greenpeace. The world's largest oil rig threatened to sink. It had only been in operation for a year and was supposed to make Brazil independent of the international oil market.

"The platform itself was 110 by 80 meters, so it was the size of a soccer field."

Kurt Reinicke heads the Institute for Petroleum and Natural Gas Technology at Clausthal University of Technology. The gigantic industrial plant produced 12 million liters of oil and 1.3 million cubic meters of natural gas every day. From a depth of 1900 meters.

"There were over 1000 alarm signals in the first 17 minutes and nobody knew which alarm signal is now the most important?"

In mid-March 2001 there was a serious accident on the Petrobras 36 oil platform. Jörg Feddern followed the events for Greenpeace back then.

"The main cause was that a gas mixture got into an emergency tank and valves didn't close. And then there was an overpressure and that overpressure caused this tank to burst. And that is the risk and the dangerous on such platforms, it's always gas and oil. And gas easily ignites, and that's what happened. Then there was an explosion. "

Eleven workers are killed. A support pillar is hit so hard that the platform sags on one side. For five days, special forces try to stabilize the conveyor system, which weighs more than 30,000 tons. But in vain. On March 20, 2001, the steel colossus sinks into the waters of the Atlantic. The Brazilian coast is threatened with a huge environmental disaster.

Since 1965 there have been 20 major accidents on oil platforms, mostly triggered by violent storms or explosions. In addition, there are the many smaller incidents on the drilling rigs, in which oil often ends up in the sea. Jörg Feddern:

"There are no international security standards. It is handled in such a way that every country makes rules on how a platform must be operated, that is, how often it is checked who is checked. This is not regulated worldwide."

Drilling and oil production in the deep sea is associated with considerable risks. As early as the 1980s, the oil industry began to look for black gold at a depth of 500 meters. Kurt Reinicke:

"Today we are in the 3500 meter range both in terms of exploration - that is, the search for new deposits - and, just below that, in terms of the production of oil."

A particular challenge for the technicians is to keep the enormous physical pressure in the oil reservoir under control. Especially since divers can only be used up to a maximum of 200 meters. Jörg Feddern:

"Everything else underneath is done with so-called remote-controlled robots. That means, if there is an accident, you sit on top of small joysticks and then try to solve this problem with robots below, and with the Deepwater Horizon we see it doesn't is working."

When the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April of last year, eleven people died again. Despite intensive efforts, it was not possible to close the bubbling oil well for three months. A total of around 800 million liters of oil run into the sea. With unpredictable consequences for the ecosystem. Greenpeace has long called for deep-sea drilling to be stopped.

"First we have to understand the ecological context in the deep sea, that is, science has to come first, examine what lives how, what role does this ecosystem play and then, if necessary, we can let the economy in these areas and not the other way around."

Incidentally, the accident off the Brazilian coast ended relatively lightly, the feared environmental catastrophe did not materialize ten years ago. Because the funding holes could then be closed in good time. Kurt Reinicke.

"The oil that then ended up in the sea was the oil that was stored in tanks on the platform, but that was a relatively manageable amount - much less than what was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico every day."

"On the whole, you can say in quotation marks that you were all a bit lucky, that could have turned out differently, because if you couldn't get those holes down there, you would have experienced a disaster like the one in the Gulf of Mexico now . "


2010: BP wants to pay for damage - Group takes responsibility for oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico