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5 Worst Offshore Rig Disasters

Posted on August 30, 2022 in

The impact of an offshore rig disaster can be categorized into two classifications. First, oil rig accidents can have a terrible environmental impact. Second, an oil rig disaster can result in a catastrophic loss of life. In order to underscore the very real hazards presented by offshore oil rigs, we focus on this occasion on the five worst offshore rig disasters in terms of loss of human life.

Piper Alpha North Sea Offshore Oil Rig Calamity

The Piper Alpha offshore oil rig accident is the deadliest in recent history. The rig was located in the North Sea off the coast of England. Before its deadly demise, Piper Alpha was responsible for about 10 percent of the oil production in the United Kingdom.

On the day of July 8, 1988, maintenance workers were involved with fixing an equipment issue. They did not complete their work during the course of the day and left a note for the crew not to activate the equipment in question.

Evidently, the message was not seen by the night crew. The activated the equipment and a series of explosions occurred. Of the 226 workers on the rig at the time of the explosion, 165 were killed. In addition, two rescue workers also lost their lives.

Alexander L. Kielland Offshore Oil Rig Disaster

One of the most devastating offshore oil rig accidents occurred on March 27, 1980 in the brutal waters of the Norwegian North Sea. In addition to the operational drilling platform, the Alexander L. Kielland Offshore oil rig came complete with what was known as a flotel. Physically connected to the rig drilling platform itself, the flotel provided sleeping and other necessary accommodations for the crew. The rig was owned by Stavanger Drilling Company for use by Phillips Petroleum Company.

At around 6:30 p.m., five of six anchor cables that kept the platform from capsizing snapped. Before an effective evacuation of the rig occurred, the last anchor cable broke and the platform capsized. Ultimately, it was determined that an improper, negligent welding job was the underlying cause of the cable breaks.

There were 212 crewmembers on the rig at the platform capsized. Only one of seven lifeboats and two of 20 life rafts released, leaving much of the crew without evacuation assistance. 123 people were killed on the brutal night in the North Sea.

Ocean Ranger Offshore Oil Rig Catastrophe

Another deadly offshore oil rid accident involved the Ocean Ranger. Operated for Mobile Oil off the shore of Canada, a rogue wave smashed into the Ocean Ranger after midnight on Valentine’s Day, 1982. At the time the wave hit the rig, a portal window in the ballast control room broke. The ballast room filled with water, which caused the Ocean Ranger to list and go off-balance.

The last radio message from the Ocean Ranger offshore oil rig was that the crew of 84 were abandoning the platform. In the severe wintertime weather, all crew members – 46 Mobile Oil employees and 38 contractors – were killed.

Bohai 2 Offshore Oil Rig Disaster

The Bohai 2 offshore oil rig capsizing resulted in the deaths of 72 or the 76 crew members onboard. During a towing operation involving the movement of the platform, a hole was punctured in the deck. The hole resulted in excessive flooding, ultimately causing the rig to capsize into the waters of the Gulf or Bohai off the shores of China.

A subsequent investigation revealed a failure to follow standard towing procedures in bad weather coupled with a failure to properly stow equipment caused the capsizing of the oil rig.

Deepwater Horizon Offshore Oil Rig Disaster

While far from the deadliest, the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig accident remains one of the most remembered disasters of this nature. One of the reasons why it remains etched in the minds of many individuals is because it occurred not all that long ago (relatively speaking), on April 20, 2010.

The Deepwater Horizon was situated off the coast of Louisiana, was owned by Transocean and operated on behalf of British Petroleum or BP. During the night of April 10, an explosion and fire erupted. Of the 126 people onboard the rig, 11 lost their lives in the blast and 17 more were evacuated to trauma centers.

Multiple warning signs precipitated the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig accident:

  • Materials used in the drilling process buckled under pressure
  • Workers worried they would be fired if they voiced safety concerns
  • The rig’s blowout preventer had not been inspected for five years before the blast
  • The blowout preventer was damaged in an unreported accident that occurred one month earlier