back to article Oil rig dream bomb taxpayer bill 'astronomical'

A false bomb alert over the weekend led to scores of offshore workers being unnecessarily evacuated by helicopter from a North Sea platform at taxpayers' expense. Blame for the panic is being placed variously on oil company management (by unions) and on a young female worker aboard the rig (by management). The unnamed young …


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  1. peter

    "Once you start you can't stop" management

    Best quote I heard on the radio new over the weekend

    "The evacuation was continued even after it became obvious that the bomb threat was non-existant"

    Isn't it nice that someone else will pick up the tab for your own crass stupidity, and continue to pay even after your crass stupidity becomes obvious.

    /silly icon of cash on fire/

  2. Dave Bell

    So when do the bosses get trained?

    I've heard quite a few stories, over the years, of major incident training (mostly Police) that never involves the people who would take charge in reality. They are to important to waste time on such activities. If we're lucky, they'll have taken the boss's role in an exercise, but long before they were promoted.

    So, who was in charge on the scene, and did they ever turn up for the training exercise, if there was one?

    (Though, in the Marine environment in general, the senior people might be a little less inclined to skive off on such things.)

  3. Garve Scott-Lodge

    Adjective overdrive

    There may well have been an overreaction, but the cost of a genuine but mishandled event of this type would likely run to billions for the producer.

    As El Reg has taken to describing the actual cost as 'astronomical', I wonder which adjective you'd have used if it had gone wrong?

  4. Tony Barnes
    Paris Hilton

    I had a dream...

    That's just genius, 10/10 for rumour spreading!!

  5. ivy
    Thumb Down

    astronomical costs?

    Seems like a huge exaggeration to me - surely the only costs will be fuel and maybe some overtime, if these units are always kept on standby?

  6. Geoff Mackenzie

    Who can we blame?

    Well, let's see, who had the dream that started all this madness?

    Got to love the logic.

  7. Jon Axtell

    @astronomical costs?

    Plus the fact that the rig wasn't producing any oil during the emergency. Anyway, helicopters aren't cheap to hire/run. Take into account also, that rigs tend to cost 100 of thousands of pouinds per day to run.

    Fire icon because there wasn't any.

  8. Steve Browne

    Chinese whispers

    Why is she being prosecuted for having an innocent conversation overheard and reported on where the effect know as Chinese whispers occurred. Is this just to cover the embarrassment of the managers concerned?

  9. heystoopid
    Paris Hilton

    A classic

    A classic example of the "Peter Principle" at work

    The problem becomes one of the idiot that usually orders this type of stupidity ninety nine times out of a hundred is promoted over the heads of the far more capable and rational managers anyway thus self perpetuating this incompetence !

    Paris because she has more brains cells then those who caused the mess in the first place !

  10. Highlander

    Glass is half full you dolts!

    OK, so some girl has a dream and some other people make the foolish mistake of listening to her ramblings about the dream and suspicion is raised. Cue the helicopters. Fine, mistakes were made, people are not perfect. However let's flip this around. How many times has this drill been tested? I mean how many times has anyone tried this type of evac?

    If you work in IT and have ever brushed up against disaster prevention/disaster management/disaster response then you know that virtually no one is ever prepared because virtually no one goes through a proper test of the procedures and facilities.

    I mean it's all very well to have procedures and hot sites and plans of what to do but does anyone ever yank the plug on their system to see if the UPS kicks in? Does anyone ever yank the fibers to see if the systems fail over to the backups? Does anyone ever shut down their IT shop and activate their hot site along with the off site workstations set up in case the office burns to the ground?

    We always have plans in place to deal with disasters, but rarely do we ever hold a full scale exercise to test the effectiveness of our plans.

    I'm not saying that this makes it OK that a bunch of people made huge mistakes and caused a massive evacuation. But I am saying that the glass half full person doesn't see the expense as a total waste as there are bound to be many lessons learned about the procedures and plans used to perform such an evacuation. Which means that the next time (if ever) it's done, it should go more smoothly.

    Doesn't seem like a total disaster now, eh?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Appearing in court?

    Why? Is it illegal to dream in ultra-paranoid Britain these days?

    Isn't it the people who *listened* and got a bit confused about reality who ought to be in court?

    I expect it'll be visions seen in one of those oil-rig flame things that sparks the next big alert.

    What an utterly loony country GB has become: I'm glad I don't live there any more.

  12. Morten Ranulf Clausen

    Not quite in orbit

    1 million £... A lot, but astronomical? Methinks not. Maybe even cheap for an exercise of this magnitude at that.

    Penguin 'cause this is one of the few things penguins don't have to fear.

  13. Keith Langmead
    Thumb Up


    Couldn't agree more. The first thing that went through my head on reading this was that at least it's given them a chance to properly test their procedures, in a way that I doubt they could realistically arrange to do otherwise (at least properly) due to the immense cost involved.

    The question now is of course if those in control take the opportunity to learn from this and make adjustments to their procedures, rather than just focus on pointing figures and passing blame.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    don't blame the evacuators

    I used to work on safety training for the oil industry in the wake of the Piper Alpha disaster (167 dead). The biggest fear of any North Sea oil worker is another Piper Alpha. It is far better to over-react to a hoax than to fail to react to a real emergency despite the large cost.

    I've heard from offshore workers that the young lady in question was throwing bags around (I presume these were rig workers' personal bags) and shouting about a bomb. Pretty stupid anywhere, but utterly ridiculous to do something like this offshore when the fear is so real.

  15. Richard Brown

    Such well informed comments .... NOT!

    Difficult to know where to start with all the drivel ......

    Oil Installation Managers (OIM) cannot devolve or derogate their attendance at their Emergency Response training courses - it is mandatory, by law - no course, no job, no OIM, platform shuts down. This does not happen.

    There will be a standard set of Emergency Response Procedures that have been produced that account for almost any scenario you can imagine, including bomb threats. These are flowchart driven processes with prescribed actions for a given set of conditions. It is easy to be critical of such an approach but it has arisen after the Piper Alpha disaster when such procedures did not exist and neighbouring platforms continued to pump gas to the burning platform because no one told them otherwise. Such is human behaviour when everything is going pear shaped.

    There are over 500 people on the Safe Scandinavia - that provides a massive resource for rumour and gossip. Very few people will know what actually happened, what was said, when and to whom - and those that do will not be talking to the press.

    Can't be certain, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the coastguard et al will back charge the installation operator for their mobilisation - every other government organisation does (HSE, Police, Fire Service, SEPA etc).

    One other thing that is certain is that the companies involved will go over this with a fine comb to find out what exactly happened and if any changes should be made to their procedures.

    Here endeth the advert for the Oil & Gas Industry

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Why should I, an innocent UK taxpayer, pay for someone's hysteria from a bad dream and idiotic management?

    Sure, we can't have another Piper Alpha and the evacuators did their job but the oil companies should be made to pay for this out of profits. It will mean the shareholders get less or no dividends for that period but hey, isn't investing in any company mean taking risks?

    If the oil company goes to the wall as a result, well... tough! They should vet their employees' psychological profile a lot better and if they didn't, well, get rid of the HR staff and managers who didn't do their jobs.

    Sometimes I actually think we should bring back good old blame-driven Thatcherism as the UK has fallen too much into the Tony Blair middle-of-the-road third-way approach where nobody takes the blame and we end up collectively paying for some loon's screw up.

    It really pisses me off.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Marvellous training Exercise

    You have to admit that this was one of the better training exercises in evacuating a rig?

    Normally management can't or won't do a full scale evacuation test due to cost and potential risk.

    Here we have a full test of all emergency services and procedures and unrehearsed response of the crew and workers. There will be many problems apparent and many fixes to put in place for sure. The safety management teams will be kept busy for months to come analysing the results.

    Management should congratulate the young woman and offer her a bonus.

    Mine is the one with the silver lining.


  18. Dave

    A Comment I Once Heard...

    A senior emergency service official remarked after a big false alarm that while it was irritating and disrupted things, it was a damn good training exercise and they'd be better prepared for the real thing because of it.

    Even the fire service treat cat-from-tree type rescues as a good training exercise and getting the team to work together so they're better prepared for when lives are really at risk. However, I guess too many of them is not a good thing.

  19. Dave

    Thoughts from an oil whore

    I myself work within the industry. the cost of the incident is not so crazy. Bear in mind 18 choppers were sent out to evac people. These choppers are not just 'sitting around' all operators agree that in the event of a disaster they will all spare any available chopper to fly out to assist. No-one wants to the be the one to say 'you cant have my helicopter, I need it' when people are being burned to death. They will however charge a substancial amount of money for the priviledge. Add to this the fact that most of the costs which are being printed in the press probably include costs for staff (think how much a day some of these fuckers are getting) which were evac'd and you have your figure. I agree that johnny taxpayer should not pay for this. Its about time the rich pricks at the top of the food chain payed out, however given that its really the oil industry and those who make real money from oil who make sure people they can coerce into doing their bidding who get voted into positions of power its of little doubt that they *somehow* pass the cost on to everyone else.

    Flame icon because I'm a couple of MMscf/d over the allowable limit.

    I'm drunk so I'm going to bed.

  20. The Mighty Spang


    >surely the only costs will be fuel

    yeah my local private pilots group operates like this, only fuel needs to be paid for, the expensive maintenance of something that can drop out the sky is catered for by the money tree in the garden

  21. Anonymous Coward

    I dreamt that...

    ...there was a bomb on the Register....

    Mine's the bomb proof suit near the escape slide.

  22. Stuart Van Onselen


    > surely the only costs will be fuel

    Well, that cost alone will be "astronomical". Helicopters are not exactly the most fuel-efficient form of transport available. And apparently there were a lot of them used here.

    Choppers drink avgas the way a sailor drinks booze after a 6 month dry voyage. I'm thinking that the only thing that costs more per mile in fuel is the flippin' Space Shuttle!

    And as The Mighty Spang has said, the upkeep costs are scary, too. Some small chopper models need 1.5 person-hours of maintenance for every one hour of flight!

    All in all, choppers are outrageously expensive. When a company director or one of his flunkies fly in to work, that's a bigger example of capitalistic excess than rolling up in a Maybach!

    (In deference to any aggrieved chopper owners out there, of course I realise that there are a lot of jobs where a whirly-bird is not only the best tool, it is the *only* tool.)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Does anyone ever shut down their IT shop and activate their hot site along with the off site workstations set up in case the office burns to the ground?" banks are requiredy by law to do this kind of exercise few times a year. And they do, otherwise FSA would refuse their licenses. Mind you, I do not mean French banks.

  24. Slaine
    Paris Hilton

    bunch of over-reactionists.

    errr - the taxpayer already subsidises the oil industry - at the pump.

    I used to work offshore - many many many miserable moons ago in another of my weird and wonderful past lives. We used to play "chinese whispers" at break times by chatting at a minimally audible level to each other in the presence of other small groups - normally the badly put-upon drilling crews. My best one was to mention a ficticious £1 per hour pay rise that we were gettin at the end of the trip - and 24 hours later the driller's lowest order (who historically always got the same pay as us) were threatening to go out on strike if they didn't get parity.

    While we're on the subject of misplaced trust... some mates of mine attended a safety award ceremony around that same time on one of the other rigs - destined to become forever immortalised in flame. I'm sure you've heard of the rig Piper-A and the B-B-Q it held the following week.

    Rig Management is another of those oxymorons. Peace and Pity... on those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of someone else's profit.

    Paris icon - 'cause I know what those "flotels" are like.

  25. John Bayly


    I can agree with you up to a point. But can you explain why every other private company doesn't get the tax payer to pay for their disaster recovery simulations?

  26. Anonymous Coward


    "It will mean the shareholders get less or no dividends for that period"

    I doubt that. The exercise (oops sorry, emergency evac) they're saying cost £1m? That's absolutely nothing in the North Sea. Shell just posted a profit of 18 billion recently, so even if they (would be Shell partly, Brittania is a joint venture between various oil companies) were made to pay, it'd be a drop in the ocean, or in this case, sea.

    But compared to that, how much does any Search and Rescue operation cost? That goes on all the time, it's all part of the same thing. A bit unfair to want to pick and choose which things you want your taxes to pay for isn't it? Consider how much tax you in fact pay, then consider how much tax the oil companies are paying for extracting the oil (go on, look it up). Effectively, they are paying for it far more than you.

    Maybe you'd be happier to know that your taxes are used to keep murdering paedophile rapists living in luxury with their tvs and games consoles? I know I am!

  27. Sean Nevin

    Re: Glass is half full

    I'd have to agree with that. What happened was a perfect "test". Everyone thought it was real (at first anyway) and did what they thought they should do. If it were me, I'd be doing some analysis of how it all worked.

    As a business owner who runs some pretty critical software for businesses from cleaning to financial services, I check my UPS and backup systems regularly. It's a bit of a pain sometimes, but well worth it when the power goes off at one site for several hours or something.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Slaine

    "errr - the taxpayer already subsidises the oil industry - at the pump."

    More like overpays the government! If it wasn't for the tax, petrol would be cheap as hell!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A Sense of Proportion

    >> .... pretty critical software for businesses from cleaning to financial services.

    Ah yes, where any failure would certainly cost lives.

    Well, I'm being much to hard here: *cleaning* is a pretty important function in life.

    Seriously: Sean is a man who has sat down and thought about his own personal probable loss of life should his systems screw up, and acted accordingly. Whatever the nature of the business, that is to be commended and is unfortunately rare.

  30. Eduard Coli
    Thumb Down

    Why is the goverment ergo taxpayer paying for this?

    Usually the cost of employee safety is borne by the corp.

    How is it that the oil monopoly gets to have theres at the public expense?

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Testing procedures

    A security company I used to work for had a procedure requiring regular testing to make sure things kept going.

    Once a week (during the night when it was quietest, just in case) they'd pull the main breaker in to the UPS, UPS would kick in - leave it on UPS for 15-20 minutes, then fire up the generator for an hour before switching the power back on (generator had a manual button to press to activate it, in a room that has to be staffed by multiple operators 24/7/365 with an hour of UPS time before it needs pressing that is fine).

    However simulations are never as good as a real thing - it was only a real power failure that highlighted the fact that the air conditioning wasn't on the UPS/Generator, but the extremely well insulated underground room full of warm people using the computers was... glad i wasn't working that shift!

    With any luck this has pointed out something they have overlooked which can be easily rectified with little damage, better to find out that the procedures forget to mention shutting off the secondary fuel line now than to realise this after it's killed 20 people!

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How many air sea rescues happen a year?

    I wonder how many air sea rescues happen each year? I would imagine the 18 choppers used for the evacuation equates to a small fraction of the total amount. When a large freighter gets into trouble no one seems to complain about the tax payer footing the bills for them, or when some idiot decides to go out in a dinghy without any clue about what they are doing. So why should the oil industry be any different.

  33. Telboy

    AVGAS in Choppers. Not a good idea

    <quote>Choppers drink avgas the way a sailor drinks booze after a 6 month dry voyage. I'm thinking that the only thing that costs more per mile in fuel is the f</quote>

    I very much doubt that any "Choppers" would be using AVGAS, very probably

    using AVTUR or JetA1. This mistake is pretty much akin to putting petrol in a diesel car. Not a good idea.

    Although I must add AVTUR works fine in a diesel engine especially if it is very cold.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Conspiracy theory... one I've heard is that it was a Scientologist trying to divert media attention away from the Anonymous protest...

    Tin foil hat?... No need, the base of my toupée is woven from the finest aluminium thank you!

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