Disasters in the offshore : are regulators learning their lessons?


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Master of Laws - LLM




Oil exploration and production in the offshore conjures up images of danger, of men wrestling with steel and testing their wits against the potentially hostile sea. The occurrence of major disasters in the offshore, such as the sinking of the Ocean Ranger offshore eastern Canada and the explosion and fire which destroyed the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea merely reinforces these images. This thesis challenges these images in the context of worker safety and safety regulation in the offshore. It focusses specifically on offshore disasters and the lessons which regulators could and should learn from them in order to formulate offshore safety regulations. It suggests that safety regulation may have been compromised in the early stages of its implementation in order to encourage the oil industry to embark on an expensive exploitation of the offshore. The legacy of this development and the flaws which are inherent in the regulatory process itself -contribute further to imperfect safety systems. These imperfections are illustrated by a consideration of regulatory process and an examination of the reports three committees of enquiry into offshore safety. The first committee considered the offshore safety regime in the United Kingdom (the Burgoyne Report),while the remaining two reports considered offshore safety in the context of two major offshore disasters - the Ocean Ranger Disaster and the Piper Alpha disaster. Each of these reports identified fundamental flaws in their respective regimes. Having identified these flaws and imperfections, the New Zealand offshore safety regime is considered in order to determine to what extent these flaws are present. Finally, the major thrust of this thesis is that adequate offshore safety regimes require fundamental changes in attitudes at all levels of the industry and government. While there is no magical "simple solution" to the problems posed by offshore safety, there are valuable lessons for regulators to learn from offshore disasters which could significantly improve safety in the offshore. Until such time as regulators take note of these lessons, disasters will continue to occur.

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Law, Peter A. Allard School of