The North Sea safety regulator has lightened up the rules for reporting accidents offshore even as one operator in the field, Total, struggles to halt a gas leak that has been going on for over a month.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has introduced a new regulation that says injuries need only be reported if workers are out of action for over seven days. The former level was three days.
The HSE was unable to comment on the changes to the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995, but Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK's health and safety director, said: "Although the trigger point for reporting injuries to HSE has increased from over three days' to over seven days' incapacitation, under EU law, employers and others with responsibilities under RIDDOR must still keep a record of all over three day injuries. The UK oil and gas industry's top priority is the safety of its workforce and its commitment will not waver because of a change in reporting rules."
The leaking well in the Elgin field, 150 miles east of Aberdeen, has so far cost Total a combined $50m (£30m) in lost production and in efforts to repair it. The leak has been spewing up to 3,000 tonnes of carbon a day into the atmosphere but Total is still no nearer knowing what caused it.
A fleet of nine vessels and two rigs has been utilised to try to bring the situation under control and Total said on Friday it was "confident" of making a breakthrough in the near future.
Christophe de Margerie, Total's chief executive, appeared to acknowledge that it must do more to improve the safety record of a company which is losing oil and gas output in the UK but also gas production onshore in Nigeria due to a different technical problem there.
"Recent accidents, such as the one on the Elgin platform in the UK North Sea, confirm the crucial importance of safety in our operations. The entire company recognises the complexity of our operations requires an even stronger commitment to safety and environment," he said.
Total did not want to make any comments about the financial losses being incurred or what went wrong but sources close to the company said an investigation into the causes of the Elgin accident was taking second place to trying to find a solution to a well that started leaking on 25 March. The same sources estimated that CO2 emissions from the leak were now likely to be running at around 1,000 tonnes, although they had previously been 3,000 tonnes.
The difficulty has forced Total to take off the personnel and shut all output from Elgin which is costing around $1.5m a day. An additional $1.5m is now being spent on ships and equipment to halt the leak.
A "diverter" has just been installed on the stricken G4 well to divert gas away from the platform and reduce the scope for a dangerous build-up of hydrocarbons close to the platform.
The comments from de Margerie came as the company reported first quarter financial figures which showed profits down by 1% to €3bn (£2.44bn) on the same period last year. This compared with sparkling results and an 11% increase in earnings from rival Shell on the back of soaring oil prices.