Delft University of Technology
Faculty Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering
Transport Technology

J.J. Hanff An evaluation of the fire of the Piper Alpha disaster.
Literature survey, Report 88.3.2470.OS, Transport Engineering and Logistics / Offshore Engineering.

In the evening of 6 July 1988 the Piper Alpha production platform, located in the central U.K. North Sea, was destroyed by a series of natural gas explosions and fire. A total of 167 men lost their lives in this oil-industry's worst ever disaster.
The Piper Alpha disaster produced insurance claims that exceeded well over US $ 1 billion, and five other oil & gas fields in the immediate vicinity of the platform had to be shut down as a result of the drop out of Piper Alpha.

According to first findings from investigations, which are still underway, the most probable cause of the initial explosion was a release of gas (condensate vapour) from a section of pipework in the platform's compressor module. The severity of the accident dramatically increased when a gas import line ruptured, thus providing more fuel for the already intense fire.
The picture of events leading up to the first explosion is one of seemingly minor human error combined with administrative and technical failures.

As a result of the disaster the U.K offshore safety regime and particularly the functioning of the Department of Energy's safety inspectorate was exposed to severe criticism.
Tougher safety rules are expected to be issued in consequence of the Piper Alpha disaster.
Also the topside layout of integrated drilling/ production/ accomodation platforms should be reviewed in the future, following the fact that Piper Alpha's living quarters were situated diagonally above gas processing equipment, which almost certainly contributed to the high number of casualties.

Reports on Transport Engineering and Logistics (in Dutch)
Modified: 2008.01.27; , TU Delft / 3mE / TT / LT.