Lessons from the offshore oil and gas industry

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Offshore oil and gas. Offshore oil and gas operations face unique risks in the Arctic and other harsh environments. Extreme operating conditions can disrupt offshore infrastructure and lead to major accidents, posing a significant challenge to operators. A thorough investigation of previous incidents aids in the learning of lessons to ensure that serious accidents affecting workers and the environment are avoided in the future.

The investigation of previous incidents is divided into two parts. To begin, we provide a statistical analysis of offshore incidents caused by natural events in the Arctic and other harsh environments. The analysis is based on data from the World Offshore Accident Database and is organized by location, cause, type of damage, failure mechanisms, and consequences (WOAD). Second, we examine a number of recent accidents that occurred in ice-prone seas, paying special attention to potential flaws in safety measures, design requirements and design methodologies, operations planning, and component reliability.

Offshore oil and gas

Based on the analysis, significant lessons were identified, emphasizing the need for additional efforts to ensure the safety of workers and assets, as well as to engage all actors involved in offshore operations in achieving a safer future for the exploitation of oil and gas resources.

StructureIncident analysis natural hazardLesson learned safety Offshore oil and gas

Offshore infrastructure for oil and gas exploration and extraction is vulnerable to environmental action, particularly assets operating at higher altitudes. Given that the Arctic contains some of the world’s largest recoverable hydrocarbon reserves, melting sea ice makes the region more economically appealing for future oil and gas field development.

Offshore oil and gas operations in the Arctic and subarctic regions, on the other hand, necessitate the management of a number of environmental and technological hazards. Hydrocarbons, by definition, pose an ever-present risk of fire and explosion. Topside facilities in harsh climates are typically completely enclosed, which may allow gas from a leak to accumulate in a confined space and possibly result in a vapor cloud explosion.


Offshore operations in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions must contend with extreme cold. Precipitation in low-temperature regimes can be abundant and come in the form of snow, freezing rain, sleet, or ice pellets. Because of fog, darkness, or precipitation, visibility can be extremely limited. Severe storms with high winds and rough seas occur all year in harsh environments.

Wave heights in the North Sea, for example, can reach 30 meters or higher (Kaiser, 2007). Harsh environments include a variety of atmospheric and marine phenomena, such as strong winds, high waves, and low temperatures (Bridges et al., 2018), icebergs (Yulmetov et al., 2016), and icing (Dehghani-Sanij et al., 2017a, 2017b), all of which exert significant stresses on offshore infrastructure.

The Offshore Safety Directive (2013/30/EU) in Europe establishes the minimum conditions for safe offshore exploration and exploitation of oil and gas, with the goal of preventing major accidents or limiting the consequences for human life and health, as well as the environment.

The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) was tasked by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy with assisting the EU Member States in implementing the Directive. Following the Directive’s requirements, a European offshore authorities group, the EUOAG, was established in 2012, with the JRC serving as the Technical Secretariat.

The JRC’s role within this group is to identify and exchange good industry and regulatory practices, as well as to facilitate capacity building of competent authorities in the Member States.

For more than a decade, the JRC has also been involved in the development of methods and tools for analyzing and mitigating the risks of “natural-hazard triggered technological accidents (Natech)” for on- and offshore industrial installations, including pipelines.

In this context, the JRC conducted an analysis of hurricane-related offshore incidents and discovered that offshore operations are vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather. The authors examined the losses sustained by the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) as a result of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. (Cruz and Krausmann, 2008).

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