The undisclosed cases of HSE failures in Egypt

Since most of the law violations and corruption cases have been brought to the surface after the Revolution of January 25th, every single sector in Egypt has been tightly monitored by experts to weigh the points of weakness and avoid any future drawbacks like before. The petroleum sector is no far from this criticism and analysis, especially that questions have been raised; to what does the sector respect the HSE regulations? This article unearths the undisclosed cases of HSE failures

Despite the vigorous attempts made by the Egyptian Ministry of Petroleum to control such incidents and violations of the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) regulation, many petroleum companies experienced financial and human losses due to cases of fire and offshore accidents. Unfortunately, most of the accidents occur as a result of employees’ lack of HSE awareness at work, whether in offices, at fields, rigs …etc.

Many petroleum experts believe that the HSE regulations in Egypt are just unapplied theories; which is a negative aspect that has been affecting the progress of the petroleum sector and disturbed a stable environment for foreign investments. The neglect of applying the HSE regulations leads to more dramatic outcomes. For instance, in case of fire, if it is not skillfully extinguished according to HSE rules, it would likely spread more and therefore, cause heavy losses of life, luggage, money, facilities…etc.

As a matter of fact, the oil and gas exploration and drilling operations are considered as one of the most hazardous work fields worldwide.  Even with a strict implementation of the HSE laws, the E&P occupations are a favorable domain for disasters and accidents to take place. This profession is full of unexpected dangers that may sometimes be fatal.

“With the multiple occurrences of accidents, the Ministry should make stricter strategies that ensure the proper implementation of HSE laws in the petroleum sector,” said a top official at a petroleum company. “One of the recent accidents was the gas leak off the Shams-4 field, operated by Khalda Petroleum Company and located on Road 77 from the Matruh Road. An explosive cloud was observed above the well and heads of the company lifted the state of high emergency, removed all vehicles and all possible heat sources in order to avoid any ignition due to the gas leakage.”

The source, asked to remain anonymous, added that the company’s management provided firefighting trucks at the field area for any emergency and evacuated workers. He further highlighted that the company succeeded to professionally apply the right rules in such incidents, which was a major factor that avoided a catastrophe.

Currently, there is an intense call to activate the long-forgotten regulations of HSE and to implement firm penalties over any kind of violations as an attempt to restore a vital factor that can strengthen and stabilize the investments’ environment in the Egyptian petroleum sector.

“Some oil and gas projects are surrounded by residents, schools, work institutions…etc., which require the realization of some measures to prevent any possible accident. With the continuous technological advancements, there are new techniques specialized in maintaining safety in any work place and monitor the eruption of any incidents,” he clarified.

Another case of recent incidents took place last August, when fire erupted in the Tasks Department of the Salam Field for three hours, which resulted in the injury of two workers in addition to losses of facilities and equipment. According to the investigation, the company’s inspection committee reported that a short circuit was the reason behind the fire. The company utilized three firefighting trucks to extinguish the fire, yet the financial losses exceeded $1 million.

While conducting our research about the catastrophic incidents caused by lack of HSE awareness, some Egyptian petroleum officials praised the Egypt Oil & Gas attempts to raise awareness about this thorny issue among the petroleum employees.

During the second quarter of 2010, a disastrous explosion took place in the Misr Petroleum Gas Station, located in a residential area of Cairo. The station was completely destroyed and it took several hours to extinguish the fire. Unfortunately, the station workers were not trained to use the safety equipment and did not even have the fire extinguishers adequate for such cases.

The list of explosions that endangered the residential houses surrounding the petroleum projects included the flare-up of a refining unit at the Alexandria Petroleum Company. The small-sized explosion was quickly controlled and abducted, however three technicians were injured.

Environmental Concerns
Explosions and fires are not the sole barriers threatening operations’ stability; environmental concerns do affect the flow of work activities. In fact, some projects were opposed by citizens due to their fear of causing a possible negative environmental impact. For instance, the BP’s Idku onshore gas processing plant, located in a town east of Alexandria and a hub for oil and gas companies, is opposed by the citizens who believe that such projects endanger their health and the environment they are living in. Although the British company received the necessary approvals from the military officials, the company awaits the final report from the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), to be ready in two to three months, which will evaluate impact of this project on the area.

Eng. Raafat Al-Beltagy, Vice Chairman for field Development at the state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) told Al-Masry Al-Yom Newspaper that this project location was selected as it is the shortest distance from the offshore field and does not cross-existing pipelines by Rashid Petroleum Company (Rahspetco), which has been producing gas in the area for some time.

BP’s Idku gas processing project aims at bringing the gas produced offshore via pipeline to an onshore site, from which natural gas supplies can be delivered. “BP has discovered 5 trillion cubic feet of gas at its North Alexandria offshore concession and plans to start producing 900 to 1000 million standard cubic feet of gas per day by the third quarter of 2014, which is equivalent to 20 percent of Egypt’s gas demand,” reported Al-Masry Al-Yom.

Besides, the oil leak has also been another reason for anxiety among citizens. Back to mid 2008, approximately 20 tons of heavy fuel oil was released into the industrial wastewater channel at Tibbin. The amount of oil spilled was reported from Egyptian Pipeline Company. The cleanup procedure was held by the Petro Environmental Services Company (PESCo) in association with the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), which worked hard to prevent the oil moving down the Nile River causing further contamination.

Strict measures needed
Any HSE accident is considered as a direct harm to the productivity of any petroleum company, regardless of the degree and size of the incident. Therefore, major petroleum companies have been eyeing efficient solutions to prevent such accidents to ensure a safe work environment and fruitful production. Through new technologies and firm implementation of HSE regulations, which should be set according to each project’s requirements, are mandatory for any corporation.

In Egypt, the HSE regulations should be activated; from theoretical policies to employed rules and employees should penalized in case of violating these rules.

By Shady Ahmed – Yomna Bassiouni



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