Safety Concerns Regarding Aging Offshore Oil Rig Platforms And Pipelines

For seamen who work on oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, the risk of injury at sea is unacceptably high. This unfortunate situation has developed due to a lack of concern about aging offshore infrastructure. Despite the fact that the safety of those who work on this equipment and the health of the environment are on the line, the offshore oil industry has failed to take steps to improve or replace aging structures. In fact, the industry has actively thwarted efforts to enforce such improvements and replacements. Until something changes, workers in the Gulf of Mexico will continue to be injured and killed, and the environment will continue to suffer. Aging Offshore Infrastructure Currently, there are thousands of miles of pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico. There are also hundreds of permanent platforms and thousands upon thousands of fixed wells. Incredibly, a considerable percentage of these structures are several decades old. Indeed, one-third of the platforms in the Gulf were built in the 1970s or earlier. More than half of them are at least 20 years old. The oldest functioning platform, the West Cameron 45-A platform, went into service on June 10, 1947, and hundreds of other structures were built in the same decade and the following one. The Risks of Aging Structures Time and time again, aging structures are involved in serious accidents and incidents that prove to be devastating to humans and the environment. As an example, 60 percent of the serious injuries that happened offshore in 2009 occurred on platforms that were at least 20 years old. 60 percent of fires also occurred on such platforms. A 1998 study by Louisiana State University revealed that there was a 0.36332-percent increase in the rate of accidents for every 1-percent increase in the age of offshore structures. Despite Problems, There Continue to Be Little Oversight Offshore pipelines are subject to less stringent inspection standards than onshore pipelines. That is incredible when you consider the types of conditions to which such structures are subjected. Offshore infrastructure is exposed to hurricanes, extremely strong, volatile currents and the corrosive effects of saltwater. Fixed platforms cannot be taken to shore to be repaired. All too often, maintenance records for such equipment are incomplete or missing entirely. In December 2009, a corroded pipe that connected a structure to a high-pressure gas well broke during routine maintenance, which caused the release of natural gas. The equipment was not up to modern standards and did not have a remote shut-off switch, and its emergency valves failed to close properly. This is just one example of the kinds of serious incidents that occur with aging offshore equipment. Efforts to Impose Stricter Regulations Continue to be Thwarted In 2007, an attempt was made to impose stricter rules on the offshore drilling industry. Industry groups fiercely and actively opposed the proposed changes and managed to keep them from happening. This past September, the government enacted a new policy for aging offshore infrastructure. Unfortunately, it mandates only that dried-up wells be plugged and that unused platforms be dismantled. No additional standards were enacted regarding aging equipment that is still being used. Injured Offshore Workers have Rights It does not appear that anything is going to be done about aging pipelines and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico any time soon, so accidents, injuries and fatalities involving the people who work there will continue to occur. When a worker is injured in an offshore accident, it is in their best interests to hire an experienced oil rig accident attorney. With the assistance of skilled maritime law firms, injured workers have the resources to protect their rights after being injured because of aging, poorly maintained offshore equipment.