Safety First: Vermillion 380 accident highlights improvements in offshore environment

By Phaedra Friend Troy

While Mariner Energy and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) continue to investigate the cause of the accident aboard the Vermillion 380 production platform in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the immediate and successful rescue of the stranded crew shines as an example of effective safety measures in the offshore industry.

When offshore veterans aboard the Vermillion 371 production facility saw smoke billowing from a nearby platform on the morning of Sept. 2, they immediately went into action.

The first to respond, employees from the oilfield service company Production Services Network (PSN) aboard the nearby platform contacted the United States Coast Guard to inform them of the fire, and then went to work to find a rescue vessel for the stranded Vermillion 380 crew.

PSN operations manager Herb Gaspard arranged to get a rescue boat to the flame-engulfed platform through Coastal Marine Logistics. Through their efforts, the Crystal Clear motor vessel arrived on scene within two hours to pick-up the 13 platform personnel, who were huddled together in the water.

The 13 crewmembers were then transported to the Vermillion 371 platform because it was the closest facility with a medic onboard.

“When all of the personnel arrived on our platform, they were visibly shaken up but appeared to be in good health,” said Jeremy Rouyea, the PSN paramedic who initially treated the rescued crewmembers. “Towels and blankets were given to the men to help avoid hypothermia. They were exhausted from being in the water for two hours but were thankful to all rescuers for their safety.”

With the crew safely ashore, the BOEM has since confirmed that the Vermillion 380 did not leak any hydrocarbons into the waters of the Gulf.

Offshore Industry Steps Up

Safety has always played a primary role for the petroleum industry, and training and awareness are stressed to improve workplace safety onshore and off.

“Really our team was able to respond because we stress awareness and action,” said Frank Stoltz, general manager with PSN’s Medic Systems. “We are very proud of the fact that our team not only recognized the situation, but immediately took the actions necessary that led to the safe rescue of the operations personnel.”

The PSN Medic Systems group provides remote petroleum projects with experienced personnel who specialize in safety and medicine while performing everyday operations and management roles.

“Given the time-critical events that can occur at these work sites, many companies have made a decision to staff their facility with a paramedic or paramedic/HSE officer,” Stoltz said. “These individuals often times are cross-trained in a multitude of areas that bring immediate benefits to the client. Although our paramedics are there to provide immediate care to the sick and injured, they often times function as drilling or production clerks, HSE coordinators, purchasing agents, etc.”

Contracted by various offshore producers and contractors, PSN has a unique insight into the culture of safety in the petroleum industry.

“Based on our experiences, the industry as a whole has met and in most cases exceeded the minimum safety standards set forth by the industry and the various governing authorities,” Stoltz said. “The industry has a greater awareness and focus on safety today, and we continue to see improvements in safety performance as borne by statistics. There is still more we as an industry can do, but all our clients have a legitimate focus on safety.”

Additionally, PSN has been working with industry professionals to strengthen the safety measures in the US Gulf of Mexico.

“We are working to be proactive in light of what we think will be significant regulatory changes resulting from the recent BP incident,” Stoltz revealed. “We are working with several of our clients to implement an action-based plan to develop a safety case for the installation and operation of offshore facilities. This safety-case approach mirrors that of many other parts of the world, and in rough terms is a cause-and-effect analysis to ensure that before any action is taken, the possible results of said action are determined.”

“We feel that this approach will reduce many of the incidents that have occurred and improve safety in the GOM even further,” he added.

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