An evaluation of the fire of the Piper Alpha disaster.
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
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
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
Reports on Transport Engineering and Logistics (in Dutch)
, TU Delft