On the way to workCrane barge gets lifting

Hook-up and commissioning

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Touchdown! At exactly 15.23 on Sunday 8 May 1977, Statfjord A made contact with the seabed for the first time, 10 metres from its predetermined position. Norwegian Contractors (NC) had been responsible for building the GBS, the tow-out, placing the colossus safely on the seabed and securing it.
— Statfjord A. Foto: Mobil Exploration Norway Inc./Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Once the steel skirt had cut five-six metres into the seabed, the next step was grouting – filling the spaces between platform base and seabed with gravel and concrete to ensure stability. All water under the installation then had to be removed so that the base would not slide in the event of an earthquake.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Known as “anti-liquid facing”.

Again and again

Work on commissioning and readying the platform for production could finally begin. But that turned out to involve a lot of work – much of which needed to be done over again – many problems and big challenges remained.

Big delays in fitting out the topside had occurred at Stord Verft, and Statfjord A was towed out to the field a year behind schedule. When the decision to postpone the tow-out became known, press releases were issued about the decision to complete as much as possible of the fabrication and installation work at land before the platform departed.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Hanisch, T., Nerheim, G., & Norsk petroleumsforening. (1992). Fra vantro til overmot? (Vol. 1). Oslo: Leseselskapet: 390.. Expensive and time-consuming work out on the field would thereby be reduced.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Aftenblad. (1976, 13. mai). Størst mulig last en fordel.

It transpired that this reasoning did not hold water. The concrete gravity base structure (GBS) could support 19 300 tonnes of topside weight during tow-out with no risk of listing.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norges Handels og Sjøfarts Tidende. )1977, 15. mars). Statfjord «A» slepes ut 3. mai. During outfitting at Stord, the topside exceeded the permitted tow-out weight, so components and modules had to be taken off.

The drilling module was the first to be removed, followed by parts of the module deck and finally sections of the cellar deck.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norges Handels og Sjøfarts Tidende. 15. mars 1977. Statfjord «A» slepes ut 3. mai. Only when the platform was standing stably on the seabed could these and other components be lifted into place and hooked up.

Module lifting

The summer season in the North Sea is short, and 32 large modules had to be lifted onto the topside before the autumn storms started. For that job, a crane ship was needed. Brown & Root, which was responsible for offshore outfitting and hook-up, hired its own Atlas vessel to do the job.

When the lifting programme began in June, however, it turned out that this crane barge was not suitable for North Sea conditions. It came from the Gulf of Mexico, and could only operate in calmer waters than the North Sea offered. Even at midsummer, when conditions were at their best, not a single module was lifted.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Lavik, H., Berge, L., & Statfjord-gruppen. (1997). Statfjord : Nordsjøens største oljefelt. Stavanger: Statfjord-gruppen: 30.

Statoil, as the biggest Statfjord licensee, began to become impatient, and pressed Brown & Root to improve progress by hiring Sea Troll. This newly built Norwegian crane ship had a much better hull design for coping with North Sea weather. But Brown & Root was not keen to be forced to take on a new crane vessel, and made minimal use of Sea Troll at first. By the end of August, several key modules – including the flare boom and drilling rig – had still not been lifted aboard, and work had to be postponed until the following spring.

Svein Jørpeland, who had been responsible for mechanical outfitting of the GBS at Hinnavågen outside Stavanger, had been dispatched to the field in 1977 as assistant superintendent for Brownaker, and did not like what he saw. “At best, Atlas could lift 1 600 tonnes, including 200 tonnes of lifting gear.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland og Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum.

In addition to lifting, Atlas was supposed to accommodate 200 workers. But its lack of seaworthiness also created problems for helicopter transfer of these people to and from the platform. The crane barge left the North Sea for good in September 1977.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 63.

The newly formed Norwegian-registered Brownaker Offshore – a joint venture between Brown & Root and Aker – had taken over the contract for the offshore work from Brown & Root UK. The latter had originally been the main contractor for offshore work on Statfjord A, and responsible for overall execution. Its initial contract related only to engineering design and project management, but it was subsequently put in charge of all installation work.

Brown & Root Norge took over the engineering contract, with Brown & Root NV in the Netherlands Antilles responsible for the installation work. Brownaker became involved in the supply of personnel and equipment, but finally secured the construction contract under pressure from Statoil in particular.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kostnadsanalysen – norsk kontinentalsokkel : Rapport 2 : Utbyggingsprosjektene på norsk sokkel : Fra styringsgruppen oppn. 1979-03-16 (Utredninger 1980:64). (1980). Oslo: 184 and Hanisch, T., Nerheim, G., & Norsk petroleumsforening. (1992). Fra vantro til overmot? (Vol. 1). Oslo: Leseselskapet: 396.

Read more in the section on Brown & Root + Aker = Brownaker.

Module lifting was a major job. The first sections to be placed on board were the “pancakes” – mezzanine decks installed between the main decks. The weight restriction during tow-out had meant that these were removed from the topside and had to be reinstalled offshore.

Obstacles needed to be removed so that the crane could swing freely over the decks. All equipment on the latter – containers, cable reels, hoses, generators, compressors and piping – had to be moved, and new storage places found for them.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Intervju med Svein Jørpeland og Tor Torstensen, av Trude Meland, Norsk Oljemuseum. Soon afterwards, the same equipment had to be moved again to make way for another module.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 82.

Foundations for the modules had to be installed, and temporary fenders built from strong steel plates where a module was to be placed to protect other structures during the lift. These fenders also functioned as guides for the module as it was lowered to the deck. The area had to be swept immediately before a lift began.

Space was at a premium on Statfjord A. The more modules were installed, the more cramped the topside became. Its surface area was 5 360 square metres, which provided a total deck space of 21 000 square metres over four stories. In other words, a massive factory was to be compressed into the space of four football pitches.

The modules were brought out to the field on barges, welded to the deck in order to prevent them sliding into the sea.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum. When a barge arrived, personnel had to be flown to it by helicopter with the necessary equipment to cut these sea fastenings. Crew from the crane vessel had to be flown or lifted in a basket to the Statfjord A topside to assist in the lifting operation.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 82: 63 and Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum .

Although Sea Troll coped better with the North Sea weather than Atlas, it was not like modern crane vessels which can whip the largest and heaviest modules onto a topside more or less regardless of sea conditions. Sea Troll could operate in maximum wave heights of 1.5 metres. Above that, it would sway about too much. Once everything was ready on both the topside and the barge, a successful lifting operation took about an hour from the module leaving the barge until it stood on Statfjord A. Each time a module touched down on the deck, the reverberations would shake the whole topside.

Jørpeland recalls an occasion when an unexpected problem arose during a lift. The steel in the deck turned out to fall short of the required quality. It had not been rolled out properly, so that laminations had formed in its structure. This meant that flakes of steel could peel off, and the strength of the metal was weakened. A great deal of extra work and a lot of time were required to reinforce the topside decks.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum .

Installing them was like assembling a giant Lego castle, and the chronology of their positioning was crucial.

A crucial consideration was that the modules were ready at the right time. They were built in Norway, the UK, the Netherlands and France. Installing them was like assembling a giant Lego castle, and the chronology of their positioning was crucial. Module A had to be placed on B, B on C and so forth. They accordingly had to be completed and taken offshore in the right order. Once a module was positioned on the topside, work began on hooking it up with the other machinery and facilities on board.

From its installation on the field to the summer of 1978, the number of workers on Statfjord A rose steadily. At peak, almost 2 700 people were employed on the platform. The tour pattern meant that 1 200 of these were offshore at any one time. More workers meant a need for more berths.

The quarters module was installed on the topside before Statfjord A was towed out. This six-storey accommodation block housed four people in each cabin during the construction period, providing berths for 400. Most of its residents were Mobil employees and Brown & Root/Brownaker management.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Each cabin had four berths, divided into two top and two bottom bunks along one wall. A curtain could be drawn around each bunk. Three armchairs, a small table and a kind of bookshelf stood on the floor. Lockable wardrobes lined the wall – one for each bunk. Each cabin was en suite, with a shower, toilet and two handbasins. The unoccupied floor space measured six-seven square metres. Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 57.

Two temporary quarters modules were also lifted on board in September 1977. But there was no space for these by May 1978, and they were transferred to a converted drilling rig which had arrived on the field. This Polymariner vessel could accommodate 600 people and was linked to Statfjord A by a covered bridge.

But even the additional quarters modules did not provide sufficient berths, and a second converted drilling rig – Nortrym – arrived on the field in November 1977. Also connected to Statfjord A by a bridge, it provided an additional 230 berths.

Wave conditions made it impossible at times to keep the bridges between these flotels and Statfjord A in place, and the workers had to be flown back and forth by helicopter. Such a flight took just over a minutes, but the queues to take one could last for hours.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 64.

Another drawback with Nortrym was that its deck had to be reinforced before the quarters modules could be installed. The Gotaas-Larsen shipping company, which owned the rig, offered to do the job at land in 18 days, but Jørpeland believed his personnel on Statfjord A could do it offshore in seven.

This was accepted, and the rig was ready to receive the modules after five days. It was towed to land, the accommodation units installed and the rig returned to the field. After seven days, workers could move in.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum . The challenge was that personnel to do the Nortrym job had to be taken from the main workforce outfitting Statfjord A without this affecting the schedule.

Even with two flotels, berths were in short supply. Sea Troll also had to be used as a flotel, with room for 200 people, during a period from February 1978.

Many temporary systems

During this phase, some 400 people were living on the platform, while many more were quartered on the flotels. This primarily meant that the necessary safety and rescue systems had to be operative. In addition, people had to be able to live and operate on board.

That in turn called for generators, transformers, diesel oil, fresh water, lighting, fire pumps, coolant water, air, ventilation and so forth. The common denominator for all these systems was that their permanent version was part of the topside and of modules which had not been lifted aboard at that time. So a number of temporary solutions had to be lifted on and, as the first modules began to be put in place, moved around to provide room.

The ventilation was started up, and it was only then that they noticed that a coating foreman had installed himself with an office inside the channel. All his drawings vanished into the sea, blown out. Fortunately, the man himself wasn’t there when that happened.

Water supply was important for the platform to be habitable. That applied both to drinking (potable) and to less clean supplies. About 200 tonnes of potable water were produced daily, in addition to stored quantities.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum . “On one occasion, cracks developed in two tanks for water, two for diesel oil and one for potable water. Many working hours were spent overcoming the problems. Somebody had to go down in the tanks to clean them, locate the cracks, grind down the damaged area, dig it out and weld it up again. The fresh water tanks were also cement-washed to prevent the water coming into contact with the steel. The cement first had to be rubbed off and then reapplied after the cracks had been sealed. A lot of extra work was created by poor-quality steel.”

Temporary toilets, office and storage containers, and new safety stations were also required. Statfjord A only had safety equipment for 200 people, which would be the requirement once the platform became operational. So additional lifeboat stations had to be installed, creating yet more extra work. All this and more had to be in place before the workforce build-up could begin.

In addition, the fire alarms sounded almost every day, often without a cause.

With so many people and so many different jobs being done in parallel, Statfjord A was a noisy workplace – with compressors rumbling, for instance, and large cranes lifting, swinging and setting down big containers. Information was constantly being shouted through the public address system about people who had to go here or there, helicopter departures and which passengers were to fly.

In addition, the fire alarms sounded almost every day, often without a cause.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 58 They were designed for a platform in operation, and accordingly very sensitive. Alarms had to be sounded if smoke or gas were detected coming from activities such as welding, grinding and so forth. Welding and grinding were precisely the main jobs on board in this phase.

Detectors known to be vulnerable to such work were normally turned off, but more than expected could react to the welding fumes. For safety reasons, too, the system was kept operative for as far as possible at this stage. It was also regarded as good training for the operators who would be responsible for the system during the production phase.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Small fires broke out several times a month throughout the hook-up period, particularly in connection with welding and flame-cutting. Procedures were not followed and/or were inadequate. Most fires were caused when sparks from welding or cutting ignited plastic, tarpaulins, paper or diesel oil, and there were even several cases when oil-saturated fire mats were set alight.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Police Force archive. Legal cases 1978. Some of the fires were also caused by spontaneous combustion of chemicals which had been stored together.

Sparks from welding rods glowed everywhere. Hoses, pipes and construction equipment lay everywhere, recalls Jørpeland:

“We had 80 diesel-driven generators on board. Hoses, tanks and pumps for diesel oil had to be established. These generators were needed because the power supply on board was insufficient for all the welding machines, so additional equipment had to be installed. In addition, the platform had alternating current, while the generating machines ran on direct current. Simply ensuring that no leaks occurred in the diesel system was a big job. Kilometres of welding cable were paid out.

“We had roll-up once a week, when all the cables were supposed to be rolled up. On one occasion, it turned out that a welding machine was using one kilometre of power cable. So we had to carry out regular roll-ups to ensure that everyone had the shortest possible cable from the power source.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum .

The final modules were positioned in the spring and summer of 1978. Sea Troll moored on the field again on 1 February 1978, now as a combined accommodation, work and crane vessel. It performed 10 lifts before 10 May, three involving temporary units to be removed from Statfjord A and seven with new modules being placed on board. One of the key modules was the actual drilling rig.

Sea Troll was replaced in June by a larger crane ship, the Dutch Narwahl, which performed the four final lifts.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Status (1978. nr. 1). Stor aktivitet på Statfjord A. Narwahl was built at Ishikwajima-Harimei’s Kure yard. When it arrived on Statfjord, it had just been delivered to Dutch shipping company Netherland Offshore Company BU as the world’s first semi-submersible crane vessel. It was unique in being operational throughout the year and built to work under particularly difficult weather conditions. Its slewing crane had a maximum lifting capacity of 2 000 tonnes. The semi-submersible could accommodate 270 people.  These were also the largest and heaviest. On 13 June, Narwahl placed the 1 850-tonne compressor unit during particularly good weather conditions. The last module was lifted aboard as early as the following day. This was the 122-metre flare boom, and both lift and installation were extremely complicated. It took 20 hours from starting to lift the boom until it was fully installed on Statfjord A.

However, something was wrong with the boom design and its structure began to resonate. When the wind first blew as strongly as 40-45 metres per second, the top bracing on the boom began to flap about. If this continued, metal fatigue would soon occur and the whole structure could fracture, swing down and hit the cell walls. In the worst case, the whole platform could overturn.

Something had to be done, and quickly. A professor from the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH) in Trondheim had the idea of lashing rope around the critical points, as is done on steel chimneys to prevent vibration. Two Brownaker employees got hold of rope, climbed along the boom and lashed it to the bracings. That saved the boom, and the rope was eventually replaced with steel plates screwed in place.

After the last module had been installed, all attention turned to completion. Staffing was at its peak. During 1979, an average of 12 round flights by helicopter took place daily from the mainland to Statfjord A and back.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Pettersen, B. (1980). Helikoptertrafikken i Nordsjøen (Vol. NOU 1980:46, Norges offentlige utredninger (tidsskrift : trykt utg.)). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget: 17. Getting ready for the day production drilling was due to start became a fight against the clock – and it was going to be won.

Jørpeland, who had become general superintendent construction manager, had bet a bottle of champagne with Alex H Massad, president of Mobil’s worldwide exploration and production division in New York, that they would succeed, and Massad had bet a case that they would not.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum .

The job now was to hook up piping and cables between the modules, and welding pipes consumed its share of the working hours. Spanish workers were responsible for much of the welding and did a very good job, reports mechanical engineer Einar Jensen in Aker:

“The Spaniards were very able welders … These massive pipes had to be welded together, and a single weld could take many hours. Once you start on a weld, you need to finish it to avoid later having to remove a layer of oxidation. That calls for a grinder to grind away and clean up before continuing. Outside, in gales and rain and sleet, the Spaniards sat and welded until they were finished. They were pretty well the only ones who did that. Others had a tendency to observe mealtimes and smoking breaks.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

As the systems were hooked up, equipment had to be started. Everything on the platform was exposed to salt, damp and rough weather, and risked getting rusty. Before systems could be started up, components had to be sandblasted and coated.

The platform facilities had been constructed on the basis of drawings from 1975, and a number of design adjustments had been made along the way to commissioning. Getting everything to function together was accordingly a challenge. The systems had to be test-run first on their own and then integrated.

A number of episodes occurred during this testing. Jensen recalls a Briton who was vacuuming the ventilation channels before start-up, but who ran out of time and had to stop the work before it was completed:

“The ventilation was started up, and it was only then that they noticed that a coating foreman had installed himself with an office inside the channel. All his drawings vanished into the sea, blown out. Fortunately, the man himself wasn’t there when that happened.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

That episode says something about the way routines were not observed and jobs not completed, and also about the lack of space and the temporary arrangements.

Working conditions

Newspaper reports made it clear that working conditions could be difficult on Statfjord A. Oslo daily Dagbladet, in particular, pursued the subject under such headlines as “Scandalous deficiencies and failures on Statfjord A”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1978. 4. januar) Skandaløse mangler og svikt på STATFJORD A. and “Oil workers forced to break the law”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1977, 12. desember). Oljearbeidere tvinges til å bryte loven. The work could undoubtedly be both difficult and frustrating, with a large turnover of workers in the early period.

Difficulties also arose with material deliveries. These supply problems must be attributed to a great extent to the shortage of storage space. As described above, things had to be constantly moved around to make space for new installations. Because landing space was limited, materials could not be sent out until three-four days before they were needed. Shortages related not only to large items but also to individual tools. A lack of simple requirements such as thread sealing tape and wire would prevent a pipefitter completing a job until these requisites were brought out from land by helicopter or ship.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 89 and Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Dagbladet identified five main problems – failures in the flow of materials, inadequate work management, errors and delays in engineering design, communication weaknesses between workers and management, and big differences in attitudes to the work.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1978, 4. januar). Skandaløse mangler og svikt på STATFJORD A.

Jan Mølle, an assistant to the Brown & Root management, responded in Dagbladet that “allegations that a failure in material supply delays and complicates the work are a useful argument when people can’t be bothered to revise work plans”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1978, 4. januar). Skandaløse mangler og svikt på STATFJORD A.

The cost analysis of the Norwegian continental shelf, which was compiled in the wake of the Statfjord A development, also criticised the flow of materials. It emerged that systems for adequate identification of materials and equipment were lacking. Some 500 tonnes of piping, for instance, was left behind at Stord Verft when Statfjord A was towed out, without being clearly marked with the place it was supposed to be installed.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kostnadsanalysen – norsk kontinentalsokkel : Rapport 2 : Utbyggingsprosjektene på norsk sokkel : Fra styringsgruppen oppn. 1979-03-16 (Utredninger 1980:64). (1980). Oslo: 244

In his research project, Helge Godø discovered that shortages of materials prompted people to take components from systems which were completed but not operational, and install them in equipment to be started up. The workers concerned could then get that job signed off. While the new systems were thereby commissioned, the systems commissioned earlier were now incomplete again.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 96

When work was to begin, tools, materials and supplies of various kinds had to be shifted to the site and connected up. Power lines had to be installed, and possible gas and oxygen hoses connected. The tools used were often worn out and old fashioned, and everyday equipment like folding rules were frequently unobtainable.

There was no lift between the decks, and pallet lifters could not be used because of the many obstacles such as piping and steps. Moving large and heavy equipment was a job in itself, and could take all day. Scaffolding erected at one spot was pulled down to be used for another assignment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 88

Conditions improved towards the end of 1977 and through 1978. That was attributed by many to the replacement of American foremen and superintendents with Norwegians. Working cultures in the USA and Norway had clashed.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1978, 4. januar). Skandaløse mangler og svikt på STATFJORD A.

The American culture was strongly influenced by hierarchical thinking. US foremen seldom gave drawings to their workers, but instead issued instructions about what was to be done. Work should only be done in line with orders, and left undone if any doubt arose. Norwegian foremen gave bigger jobs and relatively broad authority to their subordinates. This was an approach the Norwegian personnel were used to from shipyards and factories at home.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 92.

Uniforms

To mark their position in the hierarchy, Brown & Root’s American personnel often wore a “North Sea jacket” – a blue quilted anorak with an orange lining and fur on the hood – rather than a boiler suit. And they had yellow hard hats, and often carried a walkie-talkie on their right hip as a status symbol.

A whole rainbow of hard hats were to be seen on Statfjord A during the construction period – the colour of your headgear showed where you were placed in the hierarchy.

Hard-hat colours and other status symbols were not solely intended to identify the wearer’s position. Mobil’s philosophy here was primarily based on safety. Every manager on board had a role to play in a crisis. They were all trained to take command and ensure that personnel and equipment were protected as far as possible.

Foremen and departmental managers in Mobil wore yellow hard hats to show everyone that they had this role. This headgear also meant that they were recognised out on the platform, so that they could command attention or use their authority to point out things which were not as they should be.

Other Mobil employees wore white hard hats. Safety supervisors had a green one, and nurses had a white one with a red cross on it.

As mentioned above, Brown & Root supervisors sported gold hard hats, while orange was the colour for workers in Brownaker and Elcon. Somebody hired in by Brown & Root had to have their name on the hard hat along with their number in the company’s system, and a sign on each side which indicated their trade and rank. Visitors were given red hard hats.

Brown & Root supervisors were not the only people to have walkie-talkies. They were also carried by white-hats – service personnel, machine operators or banksmen – but on their stomachs.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Godø, H. (1980). Plattformutbygging til havs (Vol. 5-1980, Rapport (Rogalandsforskning : trykt utg.)). Stavanger: Rogalandsforskning: 109. Veteran oil personnel had hard hats full of stickers to show which companies they had worked for and rigs they had been on. The more labels, the higher the status.

Organisation of the work eventually changed for the better, and the labour force became more stable. During the first few months, personnel turnover had been high and presented a major challenge since took a couple of tours to become familiar with the platform.

A great deal of frustration prevailed among workers on Statfjord A during the hook-up phase, but the platform also had its positive sides as a workplace. The food was luxury class.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rogalands Avis. (1978, 19. august). Julebord året rundt for oljearbeiderne. At a time when shipyards in mainland Norway had big problems, many people were glad to have a job in the North Sea. Pay was good, better than at the shipyards, and the tour cycle of two weeks on and two weeks off, with a six-week break after every fourth tour, was appreciated.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Bergens Tidende. (1978, 15. november). Bedre å være i Nordsjøen enn permittert på Stord.

Challenging winds

The weather was the big challenge for the construction project, as Jørpeland recalls: “When the storms blew, everything had to be battened down. Large objects had to be tied down with guy ropes, which meant that a welder had to weld attachments for the guys. When the storm had passed, these attachments had to be cut off and ground smooth, and then X-rayed to see that no damage had been caused – because something else was going to stand there later. It was a massive job.”

I was woken by a big bang and a powerful shaking, and by the ashtray falling on the floor.

At times, the platform swayed so much that people became seasick. Tor Torstensen, one of the first people to arrive on Statfjord A after it had been installed, reports that it was so extreme on one occasion that a man was thrown out of bed. “It’s a bit strange to recall when that big concrete colossus is standing on the seabed.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum . The platform swung in an ellipse, with sudden resonances when the whole structure shook.

The first big storm in the autumn of 1979 arrived in the early morning of 5 November. Wind strength on Statfjord was measured at 80-90 knots, corresponding to a strong hurricane. The air was filled with froth and spray, and the sea completely covered by driving foam.

Ripped completely off, the covered bridge linking the Polymariner flotel with Statfjord A ditched in the sea. Although the accident happened in the middle of the night, several workers have been on the bridge minutes earlier. Fortunately, they had reached the other side safely and nobody was hurt. When the bridge fell, however, one of the smaller flare booms on Statfjord A was dragged down with it and ended up in the sea.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norges Handels og Sjøfarts Tidende. (1979, 6. november). Oljedirektoratet vil vite hvorfor «Polymariner» slet seg. No other equipment was damaged by the high winds.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Dagbladet. (1979, 5. november). Brua mellom plattformene ble revet av.

The reason the bridge broke was that one of Polymariner’s eight mooring chains parted, and the flotel began to turn. That in turn imposed traction on the bridge. However, the flotel was never in any danger of hitting Statfjord A. It turned away from the platform, and the seven other chains also held. When the weather eased and work could resume, personnel had to commute by helicopter between berth and workplace for a long time.

Not long afterwards, early on 5 December, another storm blew up. The wind was gusting up to 55 metres per second, and the highest waves reached 29.5 metres. “When we’ve stood here unaffected by this, they can safely build platforms as far north as there’s oil to be found,” one of the Statfjord workers told Bergens Arbeiderblad.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Bergens Arbeiderblad. (1979, 6. desember). Hardeste orkan målt i Nordsjøen.

But it undoubtedly seemed dramatic to many on board. “I was woken by a big bang and a powerful shaking, and by the ashtray falling on the floor,” Sigve Olsen told Haugesunds Avis. “There was never any panic on board, but this massive wave was naturally the main topic of conversation the next day among everyone working on Statfjord.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Haugesunds Avis. (1979, 21. desember). Det var «hundreårsbølgen».

On that occasion, the weather had been forecast well in advance and full precautions had been taken. All auxiliary vessels and the flotel had withdrawn from the platform. Statfjord A was on stream, and production flowed normally throughout.

«Going hot»

As the start to drilling approached and the platform thereby prepared to go “hot”, new procedures had to be implemented which ensured that work was done in an acceptable manner. No records existed for these, they had to be developed by the platform management. People had to be trained up, and informed in all the necessary languages – 28 nationalities were represented.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010 These new procedures led to conflicts.

We used a long stick, wound some rags around the end and dipped it in diesel, ignited it and sent a man along the boom to light the flare.

Read more in the sections on poor working conditions or striking to smoke? and foreigners, unions and a strike.

The equipment was now going to be put to a serious test. Statfjord A had two flare booms, attached on either side of the cellar deck. These were used during well testing to flare off the wellstream and thereby keep it under control. If a kick or something similar occurred in a well, the hydrocarbons could be led to the flare and burnt off. A kick occurs when a well unexpectedly takes in gas, oil or water.

A simple system was used to start the flare. A button would be pressed to cause a spark at the flare tip, which in turn ignited the flame. The system was Chinese, and the company which had developed it sent its own representative to Norway to conduct the test. During this trial, a large flame would light up one side of the platform and everyone on board as well as the crews in the standby ships were notified in advance. It was a lovely day – the sea calm and the sun shining. Jensen stood on the cellar deck and observed what happened:

“I remember looking up and seeing a couple of hundred men leaning over the railings to observe. We went through the procedures, turned it on and ran through. We used diesel oil for the test, and this was supposed to emerge from the flare boom and catch fire at once. The Chinese engineer had been to check out his system, and now stood there pressing and pressing on the button, but nothing happened. The diesel naturally went through the flare and landed in the sea.

“We kept on back and forth for a while, but we still got no flame and more and diesel went into the water. The weather was so calm that everyone could see that what was not supposed to happen was happening. Our good friend, the American drilling superintendent, first dashed his hard hat on the deck in pure frustration, and then his toupee. This was applauded by everyone who stood above and watched.

“We finally got the flare to ignite, but by then it was evening. This was done manually, and absolutely not in the advertised manner. We used a long stick, wound some rags around the end and dipped it in diesel, ignited it and sent a man along the boom to light the flare. It must be added that they also sorted out the electronics during the night.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Much of the equipment on Statfjord A was complicated, and that set its stamp on the panels in the control room which were intended to provide an overview of production and alarms. According to Jensen, they were designed by somebody with little or no experience from this type of facility.

The control panels provided far too much information, too many lights and alarms. If something in the process failed to function, bundles of data lists were printed out automatically and hundreds of alarms sounded simultaneously. Such a lot of information arrived at once that the operators were unable to maintain an overview.

To simplify the control room job, some members of the start-up team designed an “executive control panel” which they got somebody on land to produce. This presented the essential alarms which could lead to a shutdown, and remained in operation for a long time.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

The fire and gas control panel was brought on line as the modules and equipment were loaded, hooked up and taken into use (see the description of the fire alarms above). Since the platform was not hot at that time, the rules for monitoring the panel were not as strict as in the regular production phase. The chance of unleashing the extinguishing system by mistake was accordingly present.

One outcome of the alarm panel was the formation of the Millionaires Club – an exclusive association for those who accidentally initiated the halon system. This gas suppresses flames while not being particularly toxic, and was accordingly used to fight fires in industrial plants. Halon systems on Statfjord A were installed with the electrical equipment. When certain gas alarms were sounded, halon was released to prevent explosions.

Because of the many faults in the control panel, people repairing it with the aid of a screwdriver short-circuited the system on two or three occasions. That opened all the halon tanks on the platform. Bang – a million kroner’s worth of the gas was lost and the club got a new member.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Releasing halon was not always the result of control-panel faults. It could equally well occur because somebody poked a screwdriver in the wrong place when seeking to hook up a new facility. These were normally referred to as “earthing errors”.

Production drilling

Great jubilation broke out on 1 July 1978. The Brownaker flag was hoisted on Statfjord A and everyone got a day off. That had never happened in the North Sea before. Brownaker had reached its goal and preparations could begin for production drilling. Jørpeland was presented with his case of champagne during a celebration at Bellevue in Bergen.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Status. (1979, nr. 1). Boring på Statfjord A and Stavanger Aftenblad. (1978, 30. november). Boring fra Statfjord A.

Production drilling began on 30 November 1978. Four wells were completed initially and had to be tested before output started. Well A33 was the first producer to be readied. It was opened at 21.30 on Sunday 20 October 1979. The first oil reached the topside exactly at midnight. A volume corresponding to 7 000 barrels per day was produced through a choke of 31/64 inches. No sand came up from the well, which was good news.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Status (1979, nr. 19). Den første oljen fra Statfjord A.

The special forces arrive

As Statfjord A got closer to coming on stream, Mobil sent a number of hand-picked and experienced specialists out to the field. These were men who travelled worldwide to start up platforms. Most of them came from installations in the Gulf of Mexico. Many had never seen systems with the dimensions and volumes they encountered here. But they were nevertheless very familiar with the individual components and had good system understanding.

One of those who came out to Statfjord A was James (Jim) Gafken from Mobil Exploration & Production Services in Dallas.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Arne Evensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum. 14. June 2010. He was the oldest of the coordinators, and undoubtedly subordinate to the platform management like everyone else. But he could also call Massad in New York and other people high up in the Mobil group, and helped to ensure that Statfjord A was given priority for the services it requested from head office, such as access to various experts.
To assist and guide the work of testing, maintenance and operations, Larry Denton, who was chief facilities engineer at Mobil Exploration Norway, came out together with a team of 16 technicians and supervisors from Mobil’s offshore department in Houston and New Orleans.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010 and interview with Arne Evensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum. 14. June 2010.. Gafken was an idiosyncratic person. Nurse Evensen encountered him during his first day on the platform: “He arrived with a bandage around one arm because he had spilt liquid glycol – radiator fluid – on it. This had caused a serious second-degree burn. At that time, the health department had power and could decide who was unable to work and had to be sent ashore. Gafken came to my office, where I told him that this was so bad that he ought to go ashore and get medical treatment. That wasn’t something you did with Gafken, but I didn’t know who I was dealing with. But we finally agreed that he would come to the office twice a day for treatment and to change the bandage. His arm healed. He was an unusual fellow. He hardly slept – only two-six hours a day.”

Før produksjonen offisielt kunne starte, måtte brønnene testes. Da første brønn skulle åpnes, satt Gafken på et spann ved siden av juletreet og var klar til å stenge brønnen manuelt om det skulle ble nødvendig. Men han slapp det, oppstarten gikk som planlagt. Utstyr som hadde stått ubrukt i flere år, og en del av elektronikken fungerte ikke helt som den skulle, men feilene ble rettet opp etter hvert som de oppsto. Einar Jensen var med som en av problemløserne.

When we pressurised the system, we got gas back. It thereby entered the living quarters and came up in the toilets.

When well testing started, Gafken sat on a bucket beside the Xmas tree of the first well and was ready to shut it down manually if necessary. But he had no need to do that, the start-up went as planned. Equipment which had stood unused for several years and part of the electronics failed to work as they should, but the faults were fixed as they were discovered. Jensen was present as one of the problem solvers:

“It took a few hours, but we then got the first well to flow. First came the drilling mud which had stood in the well, and then the oil. The Xmas tree on deck included a small instrument valve, a five-six millimetre affair which allowed us to take samples. Those of us who were involved in the work took some of these with us. In the evening, we announced to the whole platform that the very first oil had now come topside on Statfjord A. All sauce bottles and suchlike disappeared that evening. I still have a tabasco bottle with the very first Statfjord oil standing at home.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Surprises occurred as the oil entered the system. A temporary quarters block had been positioned on Statfjord A during the initial construction period, and a gas pipeline for pressure relief was installed just below the deck where this structure had stood. It continued right past the overboard line from the main living quarters, and had therefore been connected up as a drain for the temporary living quarters. It was known that the pipe would not be used until the final part of the gas facility was started up several years later.

When the construction workers removed the temporary living quarters, however, they forgot the temporary connection to the overboard line. This was not marked on any drawings and also went undetected for various reasons while the system for being prepared to start-up. So what was definitely not supposed to happen actually did, as Jensen recounts:

“When we pressurised the system, we got gas back. It thereby entered the living quarters and came up in the toilets. People were almost blasted off their perch and came out with their trousers around their knees. The episode was dramatic, but fortunately nobody was injured. We understood that a connection existed somewhere which shouldn’t be there, and the only thing to do was to crawl along all the piping. We found the connection and removed it. That was one of the most dramatic incidents we experienced during the Statfjord A start-up. Getting gas in the living quarters frightened me. Things could have gone terribly badly.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Einar Jenssen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum. 14. June 2010

Some people tried to get away with quick fixes. The drilling contract was held by Loffland Brothers. A flange with three valves for fresh water, diesel oil and chemicals respectively supplied the drilling rig. These three liquids were mixed and added to the mud. To avoid having to open all three valves, the men decided it would be much simpler to connect them and thereby have only one valve to deal with.

What they had not taken into account was that the fresh water and diesel oil were under five and 15 bar of pressure respectively. When the single valve was opened, the diesel oil flowed directly into the fresh water system, so that those people who were in shower suddenly found they were washing their hair in diesel. Suspicion immediately attached to the drilling crew. The connection was discovered and halted, but the water tasted of diesel for a long time.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Svein Jørpeland and Tor Torstensen, by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum .

At 11.00 on 24 November 1979, E J Medley, chief executive for Mobil in Norway, pressed a number of buttons in the control room on Statfjord A to bring the platform officially on stream.

Read more about the way the actual start-up went in the section on start-up, initial production and first cargo.

On the way to workCrane barge gets lifting
Published April 13, 2018   •   Updated December 3, 2019
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