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What Really Happened at the Piper Alpha Oil-Rig Explosions - New Findings - Stop Killing Oil-Rig Workers

Message Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, ASME Fellow

Offshore oil-rig explosions can be stopped! A series of pictures and discussions explain a cascade of Piper Alpha explosions, which killed 167 men. False information since 1988 is now arrested.

This article focuses on the explosions that destroyed the Piper Alpha (Figure 1). Another Op Ed discusses the full extent of this misleading research (Offshore Oil Rig Explosions and Deaths Can Be Stopped - Piper Alpha Explosion Flawed Investigations, click here).

A peer-reviewed journal paper explains the math and the physics associated with this disaster investigation ("Explosion Differentiation Using Light Emissions - Nuclear Reactor, Steam, Water Hammer, Hydrogen, Piper Alpha, and Hydro-Volcanic Explosions", 2022, in publication). Extensive research has been performed by others, and their research was the baseline for my research.

However, those researchers only identified six of seven primary explosions at Piper Alpha (Cullen, L., "The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster", 1990, Click Here, click here). Described in this article, the unrecognized water hammer explosion that started the disaster to begin with was incompetently overlooked by previous researchers.

Figure 1: Piper Alpha platform prior to explosions.
Figure 1: Piper Alpha platform prior to explosions.
(Image by UK government)
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A Fundamental Research Flaw

Prior to the explosions, a safety valve was removed from service. The startup of a condensate pump (Figure 2) ignited the first explosion in the pipe near this safety valve. Prior to this research, a gas leak from a loose flange was incorrectly assumed to have initiated the Piper Alpha explosion, and some unknown spark source was incorrectly assumed to have ignited the released gas.

The fictitious gas leak is shown in Figure 3. Tests showed that flanges did not leak when properly tightened, but flanges did leak when finger tight (Figure 4). Even though workers knew that they would be fired if they did not properly tighten bolts, one worker was accused of incompetently not tightening the bolts on the flange properly - nonsense. The investigators did not know the cause for the disaster, so they picked an employee to blame, and he died in the explosion.

Water hammer explosions were not considered during the initial Piper Alpha investigation. By doing so, the actual cause of the Piper Alpha disaster was buried for many years.

Figure 2: Condensate Pump A was started to water hammer the piping system and ignite the first Piper Alpha explosion.
Figure 2: Condensate Pump A was started to water hammer the piping system and ignite the first Piper Alpha explosion.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 4: Tests to show that flanges leak if not properly tightened. Flanges did not leak when properly tightened.
Figure 4: Tests to show that flanges leak if not properly tightened. Flanges did not leak when properly tightened.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 4: Tests to show that flanges leak if not properly tightened. Flanges did not leak when properly tightened.
Figure 4: Tests to show that flanges leak if not properly tightened. Flanges did not leak when properly tightened.
(Image by UK government)
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Approximate Locations for Explosions 1, 2, and 3

To present a discussion of explosions, the locations of those explosions are first shown. Figure 5 shows a simulation of the oil rig, and Figure 6 shows a cutaway view of the oil rig, depicting the approximate locations of the first three explosions.

Figures 7 and 8 show models for sections of the Piper Alpha oil rig. These sections are identified as Modules B and C. Explosions 1 and 2 ignited in Module C, and Explosion 3 ignited in Module B.

Figure 5: Alpha Piper Platform model.
Figure 5: Alpha Piper Platform model.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 6: Explosions 1,2, and 3 - Platform cutaway view, showing open ends of the platform. The water hammer explosion explains large amounts of observed burning fuel. The leaking flange fallacy does not.
Figure 6: Explosions 1,2, and 3 - Platform cutaway view, showing open ends of the platform. The water hammer explosion explains large amounts of observed burning fuel. The leaking flange fallacy does not.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 7: Explosions 1 and 2 - Module C model - Location of the water hammer explosion and second explosion.
Figure 7: Explosions 1 and 2 - Module C model - Location of the water hammer explosion and second explosion.
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Figure 8: Explosions 1 and 2 - Module C model - Initial water hammer explosion and the larger second gas explosion when flaming gas was suddenly released.
Figure 8: Explosions 1 and 2 - Module C model - Initial water hammer explosion and the larger second gas explosion when flaming gas was suddenly released.
(Image by UK government)
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The Sequence of Explosions

Videos help to understand the explosion sequence. These videos include "What caused the giant Piper Alpha oil rig explosion?", Click Here. Piper Alpha explosion", Click Here). Witnesses reported hearing each of the seven explosions that were evaluated for this research, in addition to final explosions that sunk the Piper Alpha.

Together, several videos and reports are used to display the sequence of events for the explosion sequence. However, the interpretation of events presented here significantly differs from the interpretations that are provided with those videos and reports, and figures are appropriately annotated and modified to reflect new findings.

Explosion 1: The Water Hammer Explosion

A condensate pump was started to ignite an explosion in a four-inch-diameter pipe, as shown in Figure 9. Calculations to confirm pressures and temperatures are available ("Explosion Differentiation Using Light Emissions - Nuclear Reactor, Steam, Water Hammer, Hydrogen, Piper Alpha, And Hydro-Volcanic Explosions", in publication).

These calculations proved that a water hammer ignited an explosion in a Piper Alpha pipe to ignite the Piper Alpha disaster. Furthermore, calculations prove that the resultant detonation pressure in the pipe far exceeded the pressure needed to blow apart the pipe and the attached flange.

Air entered the pipe during maintenance, and a bomb was waiting to explode. When the pump started, liquefied natural gas, or condensate, surged into the pipe. The condensate compressed the air and natural gas to heat them up and automatically explode the methane, where natural gas is primarily methane.

When flammable gases reach this autoignition temperature they violently explode. An explosion ignited inside the pipe to start the explosion cascade on Piper Alpha. Again, pressures were sufficient to burst the pipe.

Figure 9: Explosions 1 and 2 - The first water hammer explosion ruptured the pipe to leak fiery liquefied methane and initiated the disastrous Pipe Alpha explosions - audible explosions.
Figure 9: Explosions 1 and 2 - The first water hammer explosion ruptured the pipe to leak fiery liquefied methane and initiated the disastrous Pipe Alpha explosions - audible explosions.
(Image by UK government)
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Water Hammer Explosion - Detonation

Facts that contradicted the conclusions of the Cullen report were dismissed.

Although autoignition was considered by Cullen, water hammer was not evaluated at all. Published calculations by this author proved that water hammer pressures exceeded the calculations by Cullen. As the crux of these new findings, the pressures in the piping were sufficient to damage the flange by themselves, and the resulting autoignition pressures were sufficient to explode the pipe into fragments.

Cullen' report stated that, 'The conclusion reached was that given a properly made-up flange shock loading could not have led to a leak.' I have rejected all of these except autoignition. This cannot be ruled out, but I regard it as unlikely. It depends upon the fulfilment of a series of assumptions for which there is no direct evidence. Further the assumed explosion was not heard by any witness' (Cullen, L., "The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster", 1990, Click Here, click here).

However, witnesses reported hearing two explosions separated by seconds. One explosion was the water hammer explosion, and then the second explosion followed in 2 to 3 seconds. Also, direct evidence required to explain a water hammer explosion was the detonation wave that Cullen dismissed from consideration.

Specifically, 'a detonation wave [from the second explosion] shook a 2,645 ton, 72-meter-long Lowland Cavalier ship, which was located 25 meters from the rig. Explosions were heard by personnel. People were knocked out of their chairs by an explosion. Certainly, explosions detonated on the Piper Alpha rig since fires do not initiate shock waves' ("Offshore Oil Rig Explosions and Deaths Can Be Stopped - Piper Alpha Explosion Flawed Investigations", click here). Also, the 69 meter long, 1972 ton Maersk Cutter shook from the detonation wave impact on that ship.

Cullen dismissed the reported water hammer explosion, and he dismissed evidence of a detonation wave. Accordingly, he dismissed the possibilities of a detonated pipe that caused a resultant large fuel leak. These dismissals of facts deleted the proof that a water hammer explosion ignited the Piper Alpha disaster. Such actions constituted a cover-up of explosion safety hazards in the oil and gas industries.

Figure 10: Calculation results to prove that a Piper Alpha Explosion 1, or water hammer explosion, ignited.
Figure 10: Calculation results to prove that a Piper Alpha Explosion 1, or water hammer explosion, ignited.
(Image by Leishear Engineering, LLC)
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Explosion Investigations - The New and the Old

Calculations results from Cullen's report and my report are compared in Figure 10 ("Explosion Differentiation Using Light Emissions - Nuclear Reactor, Steam, Water Hammer, Hydrogen, Piper Alpha, And Hydro-Volcanic Explosions", 2022, in publication). Figure 10 clearly shows that the maximum water hammer explosion pressure far exceeded the pressure needed to blow the pipe apart - case closed.

To record some math results as proof, a calculation summary follows, but this summary can be glossed over by most readers.

A fundamentally flawed investigation - the wrong calculations

To compound the Cullen investigation errors, investigators used the incorrect pressures to confirm their conclusion that autoignition was unlikely. That is, they used the wrong calculations.

Corrected calculations using new technology have been performed ("Explosion Differentiation Using Light Emissions - Nuclear Reactor, Steam, Water Hammer, Hydrogen, Piper Alpha, And Hydro-Volcanic Explosions", 2022, in publication). Dismissals of facts and incorrect calculations constituted the fundamental flaws in Cullen's investigation. Figure 10 records calculation results that support the conclusions presented here.

  • A dashed line in Figure 10 shows the pressure needed to ignite the gas inside the pipe. A solid line represents the pressure to cause a flange leak when properly tightened. A dotted line shows the pressure needed to burst the pipe. Another dashed line shows the gas pressure inside the pipe during a water hammer. The star at the right of Figure 10 shows the explosion pressure inside the pipe due to water hammer compression. Using this figure, the following results are established.

Cullen and his investigators incorrectly concluded that:

  • The condensate pressure at the flange was incorrectly estimated as 670 psi. Flanges leaked when finger-tight at this pressure but did not leak when properly tightened.
  • The maximum explosion pressure in the pipe was less than 4,351 psi.
  • Natural gas concentrations were assumed to equal 3-4%. This assumption minimized the calculated pressures, and again supported the false flange leak explosion theory.
  • The minimum burst pressure of the pipe was 7,832 psi for a 4-inch- diameter pipe.
  • The nominal burst pressure was 12,908 psi for a 4-inch-diameter pipe. Research since that time improved burst pressure estimates.
  • Explosions did not cause a flange leak.

The water hammer explosion - corrected calculations

New calculations technically proved that:

  • Water hammer pressures in the pipe at the flange were calculated as 9094 psi, which was much higher than the 670 psi Cullen estimates, which significantly misrepresented actual pipe system conditions at the time of explosions.
  • To calculate water hammer pressures, a flow rate of 133 meters per second was used. This value was obtained from Cullen's report, where he assumed a smaller than actual flow rate. Again, he minimized data to support flawed conclusions. Even so, I used his estimate. Accordingly, water hammer and explosion pressures may actually be higher than calculated in Figure 10.
  • The explosion pressure inside a pipe was approximated as 46,040-psi, assuming methane gas properties in air - with negligible ethane ("Methane-Air Detonation Experiments at NIOSH Lake Lynn Laboratory", 2013, Click Here).
  • Experimental detonations occur between 5.3% and 15.5% concentrations of methane. That is, Cullen picked a low methane concentration that yielded low explosion pressures, which were questionable with respect to explosion yield.
  • Water hammer pressures were above the maximum 2,205-psi design pressure for the flange of concern. Cullen's data was used.
  • Research since the time of the Piper Alpha explosions has shown that piping burst pressures are different than the those used by Cullen. The burst pressure of the pipe was 7,995 psi - not 12,908 psi as estimated by Cullen.
  • The 46,040-psi explosion pressure was 5.76 times the 7,995-psi burst-pressure limit of the pipe.
The pipe blew apart violently.

Pipe Damages
In other research, a larger 6-inch-diameter pipe burst like a firecracker in Hamaoka, Japan (Figure 11). The explosion at Piper Alpha is comparable to this explosion.

To record some more math results as proof, a calculation summary follows. Again, most readers can gloss over the following results.

  • Maximum pipe stresses to burst pipes were lower for this shredded Hamaoka pipe than the pipe stresses in the pipe that exploded on Piper Alpha ("The Autoignition of Nuclear Power Plant Explosions", 2020, click here). Hoop stresses - 220,826 psi is less than 437,085 psi.
  • The maximum explosion pressure for the Hamaoka pipe explosion explosion was much less than the Piper Alpha explosion pressure for the . Explosion pressures - 18,666 psi psi is less than 46,040 psi.
  • The pressures required to burst pipes were significantly less for Hamaoka. Burst pressures - 4106 psi psi is less than 7995 psi.
  • Assumptions were that sufficient air was available in pipes for complete combustion, and time-dependent explosion effects were neglected.
  • Different effects on whether or not the pipes burst counter each other, and the net effect is that the explosions were similar with respect to damage in each facility. In fact, there is only a 1.6% increase in damage expectations for Piper Alpha over Hamaoka.

Figure 11 is provided to impress the fact that water hammer explosions are a very serious explosion hazard. Again, there are other open questions since explosion investigations have been derailed for Piper Alpha and other industrial explosions for decades (Nuclear Threats - Part 5 - An Incoming Nuclear Plant Explosion Disaster- Zaporizhzhia Near Missed This Next Disaster, Click Here).

Also, an explosion at a Brunsbuttel, Germany nuclear power plant is shown in Figure 11. From this photo, the Brunsbuttel explosion was larger than the Hamaoka explosion, and the initial pressure before explosion was therefore higher than the Hamaoko explosion pressure. However, technical details of the Brunsbuttel explosion are unavailable for further analysis.

No doubt, the pipe near the Piper Alpha flange catastrophically burst due to a water hammer explosion. Piper Alpha pipe damages were similar to the Hamaoka damages shown in Figure 11. New technology is here to correct flawed Piper Alpha calculations that have stood in the way of explosion prevention since 1988.

Figure 11: Explosion 1 comparisons - Comparable pipe explosion damages are shown for pipe explosions in Hamaoka, Japan and Brunsbuttel, Germany.
Figure 11: Explosion 1 comparisons - Comparable pipe explosion damages are shown for pipe explosions in Hamaoka, Japan and Brunsbuttel, Germany.
(Image by Japanese and German governments)
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A Fundamentally Flawed Investigation - Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Safety Sunk with the Piper Alpha Oil Rig

The flawed conclusion of a leaking flange plagued the remainder of Cullen's report. Using an assumed conclusion about a leaking flange, Cullen discarded, or dismissed, testimony that did not agree with this conclusion.

These flaws contaminated some of the tests that Cullen performed, and destroy important report conclusions from Cullen. Furthermore, Cullen's false results detrimentally affected all pertinent offshore oil and gas industry videos, safety analyses, and investigations that have been performed since 1988.

Documenting each of the Cullen report errors that resulted from this investigation flaw would be an extensive effort, which is outside the scope of this research. Unless action is taken, all safety analyses and investigations will be affected in the future to endanger lives and the environment.

Explosion 2

Condensate flowed out of the four-inch pipe into Module C, and flammable gas filled the compartment. Gas alarms went off in the control room (Figure 12). A second explosion ignited as heavier-than-air natural gas gushed out of the 4-inch pipe and into the open-ended Module C.

This explosion was observed by the captain of a nearby ship. A simulated explosion is shown in Figure 13. The ship captain also observed large volumes of burning blue gas after this second explosion. Note that methane burns blue when there is plenty of air for complete combustion, similar to a burner on a kitchen stove.

The small volume of flammable gas from a flange leak does not explain observations. The modeled flow of gas in Figure 14 and 15 conformed to verbal reports. The minimal gas flow shown in 4 would not have provided the large flow of burning gas that was observed.

A ruptured pipe from a water hammer explosion fits the facts of the blue flame observations. Sufficient gas then accumulated in Module C to transform burning methane into the second methane explosion.

Figure 12: Simulation - Gas alarms actuated immediately after the water hammer explosion. The water hammer explosion and second explosion were separated by 2-3 seconds.
Figure 12: Simulation - Gas alarms actuated immediately after the water hammer explosion. The water hammer explosion and second explosion were separated by 2-3 seconds.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 13: Explosion 2 - Simulation of observed second explosion, where flowing fuel through an exploded pipe accumulated sufficient fuel to change flammable conditions to explosive conditions - audible explosion.  (Time = 2-3 seconds).
Figure 13: Explosion 2 - Simulation of observed second explosion, where flowing fuel through an exploded pipe accumulated sufficient fuel to change flammable conditions to explosive conditions - audible explosion. (Time = 2-3 seconds).
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 14: Simulation of an observed blue methane flame following the second water hammer explosion - Complete combustion burned all of the fuel.
Figure 14: Simulation of an observed blue methane flame following the second water hammer explosion - Complete combustion burned all of the fuel.
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Figure 15: Simulation of an observed water hammer explosion - Gas alarms were actuating in the control room at this time, condensate flowed from a smaller 4-inch pipe explosion, and gas evaporated.
Figure 15: Simulation of an observed water hammer explosion - Gas alarms were actuating in the control room at this time, condensate flowed from a smaller 4-inch pipe explosion, and gas evaporated.
(Image by UK government)
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Explosion 3

Initial reports attributed the third explosion in Module B to a blown-out bulkhead between Module B and Module C, and missile damages to pipes or tanks. I disagree.

Cullen opined that oil tanks in Module B probably leaked due to projectile damage from a blasted bulkhead between Modules B and C, following the second explosion. Bulkheads between Module C and Module D were certainly damaged by the first and second explosions, based on platform fire and flame observations.

However, the initial water hammer explosion inside the pipe was sufficient to crack pipes anywhere in the system. Shock waves from the initial 46,040-psi explosion blasted out into the entire piping system, where explosion pressures decrease at each crack in the piping. Since the water hammer explosion - the first explosion - was not recognized, Cullen was unable to evaluate this new understanding of the explosion progression.

In particular, shock waves from an internal water hammer-piping explosion transmitted through all connected piping on the oil rig. The greatest gas pressures pile up near the ends of pipes. Accordingly, the approximate location of a ruptured pipe in Module B is shown in Figure 16.

In other words, the initial water hammer cracked this 20-inch-diameter pipe to cause a condensate leak with gas formation. Flames from Module C ignited a Module B explosion. Fire and smoke were observed in Module B before Explosion 3. That is, the fire moved from the burst, water hammered 4-inch pipe through the damaged bulkhead and onward to the leaking 20-inch pipe. This pipe then burst and exploded, flooding the compartment with flammable methane to also explode tanks filled with oil.

In short, the second explosion burst through a Module C bulkhead into Module B. Module B flames were now blazing to ignite Explosion 3. In fact, the fire was larger in Module B than Module C. The size of a fire only increases with increased fuel, and the fire size increased before Explosion 3.

'Within a second or two observed grey smoke [issued] from the west end of C Module.' 'Only a few seconds later', 'thick black smoke and large flames, obscured the smoke, [and issued] out of the west end of B Module.'

A cracked and leaking pipe in Module B is consistent with the observed continuing fire above Module A (Figures 19 and 20). Massive amounts of fuel were burning. A cracked pipe also enlightens a fictitious pool fire and Explosion 4, which are discussed below.

A Massive Fire from Module B after Explosion 3

Following the Module B gas explosion, the Piper alpha platform was engulfed in flames. Since there was limited oxygen in Module B, all of the fuel was not burned inside this compartment. Consequently, unburned soot exited the compartment. Outside the rig, air was available to ignite the soot and cause the distinctive yellow flame.

Figures 17 and 18 show the progression of the Explosion 3 fire as it burns outward from Module B to the outside of the platform. Also, bulkhead damages occurred in Modules A, B, C, and D, as evidenced by fires at both ends of the platform, where a path for flame existed across the entire platform.

Fires escaped from the open ends of the modules, through the north wall, and through the roof of Module A. All of these locations are weaker points for fire to burn through. As the flames shoot upward outside the modules, smoke obscures views into the modules to see the fires.

Figures 19 and 20 show the subsequent fire above the platform. Note that this 20-inch pipe released far more fuel than the 4-inch pipe that ruptured in Module C. This fact explains the far greater explosion and larger fires for Explosion 3. Figures 21-23 also show that the fire in Module B blazes until, and after, Explosion 4.

Figure 16: Explosion 3 - Module B model - audible explosion.
Figure 16: Explosion 3 - Module B model - audible explosion.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 17: Explosion 3 Fires - After the initiation of the third explosion, where a pipe was cracked to leak fuel to ignite an explosion (Time = 10 seconds).
Figure 17: Explosion 3 Fires - After the initiation of the third explosion, where a pipe was cracked to leak fuel to ignite an explosion (Time = 10 seconds).
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 18: Explosion 3 Fires - Partial combustion yielded yellow burning of soot and smoke. Fires above Module A followed the Module B explosion.
Figure 18: Explosion 3 Fires - Partial combustion yielded yellow burning of soot and smoke. Fires above Module A followed the Module B explosion.
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Figure 19: Smoke after Explosion 3.
Figure 19: Smoke after Explosion 3.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 20: Two different photos as the fire expanded, following Explosion 3 (Time = 15+ seconds).
Figure 20: Two different photos as the fire expanded, following Explosion 3 (Time = 15+ seconds).
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Figure 21: Helicopter view a after Explosion 3
Figure 21: Helicopter view a after Explosion 3
(Image by UK government)
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Explosion 4

Also note that another a smaller explosion ignited after Explosion 3. This reported explosion is consistent with Explosion(s) 4 of oil tanks in Module B. Since there was no air inside the Module B oil tanks, the tanks ruptured from expansion of the oil as the Module B fire blazed.

The rupture of the steel tank was heard as the steel walls of the tank ripped apart, and an oil explosion was possible. The sound of the 'bang' was smaller.

Cullen's report claimed that oil tanks in Module B leaked oil to start a pool fire below this ruptured pipeline to heat the pipeline to explode. Calculations in Cullen's report also noted that there was another source of heat required to burst this pipe. That is, oil leaks from the oil tanks were inadequate to even support a pool fire - much less a pool fire, a large fire in Module B, and an ongoing fire above Module A until Explosion 6 ignited.

Explosion 5

This raging fire in Module B damaged an 18-inch riser pipe to rupture and ignite an explosion. Flames from the explosion then burst out from under the platform, as shown in Figures 22 and 23.

The flow of gas was estimated at  ton per second, which was nearly the equivalent of the entire gas supply for the United Kingdom. The flames roared on as shown in Figures 24 and 25. Fuel to fires pumped continuously from other platforms as the flaming disaster raged on (Figure 26).

The conclusion endorsed here is that the initial water hammer explosion shock waves traveled throughout the piping system on the Piper Alpha to crack riser pipes. For this fifth explosion, a crack in this pipe is assumed to have leaked fuel to accelerate the bursting of this pipe. Whether cracked or not, the raging fire across Modules A to D provided heat to explode this pipe. The floors of the modules act as weak points for the fire to burn through. Other risers exploded at later times.

Prior to Explosion 5, fires were primarily contained inside the blazing Modules. However, most of the platform blazed upward once the semi-contained Module blazes caused an explosion of the riser pipe.

There was so much burning fuel following the riser explosion, fuel burned yellow as soot burned at a distance from the riser. Three fuel sources then fed the fires continually, i.e., the 4-inch pipe, the 20-inch pipe, and the 18-inch riser pipe.

Figure 22: Explosion 5 - Initiation of the fifth explosion - audible, 20-inch pipe explosion (Time = 24 minutes, Tartan riser).
Figure 22: Explosion 5 - Initiation of the fifth explosion - audible, 20-inch pipe explosion (Time = 24 minutes, Tartan riser).
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 23 - Explosion 5 - Water hammer explosion pressures were adequate to crack pipes throughout the rig and initiate other explosions.
Figure 23 - Explosion 5 - Water hammer explosion pressures were adequate to crack pipes throughout the rig and initiate other explosions.
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Figure 24: Fire development as fuel was continuously supplied to the platform.
Figure 24: Fire development as fuel was continuously supplied to the platform.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 25: Full fire engulfment of the platform after Explosion 4.
Figure 25: Full fire engulfment of the platform after Explosion 4.
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 26: Natural gas fuel sources for the Piper Alpha Disaster (Piper Alpha, Tartan, Claymore, and MCP-01 platforms).
Figure 26: Natural gas fuel sources for the Piper Alpha Disaster (Piper Alpha, Tartan, Claymore, and MCP-01 platforms).
(Image by Loss Prevention Bulletin - Adapted from a drawing by Willie Scott 24/4/11)
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Explosions 6 and 7

Fuel continued to be pumped from several locations to the platform during the disaster. As other large-diameter pipes ruptured due to fires, those pipes exploded violently as well. Cracks in these pipes were probable from the initial water hammer explosion. Photos of Explosions 6 and 7 are shown in Figures 27 and 28.

Note that the three exploding risers were located progressively further away from the burning inferno in B Module. Their relative locations with respect to the initial fuel source may have determined which one blew apart first.

The fact that the water hammer explosion was hidden until now opens many new questions in Cullen's fundamentally flawed explosion investigation. Cullen's report was fundamentally wrong, and had misled oil-rig-explosion safety for decades.

Figure 27: Explosion 6 - Ignited as a 16 -inch riser pipe to the rig ruptures (Time = 30 minutes, MCP-01 riser).
Figure 27: Explosion 6 - Ignited as a 16 -inch riser pipe to the rig ruptures (Time = 30 minutes, MCP-01 riser).
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 28: Explosion 7 - Ignited as a final 18-inch riser pipe to the rig ruptures (Time = 70.8 minutes, Claymore riser).
Figure 28: Explosion 7 - Ignited as a final 18-inch riser pipe to the rig ruptures (Time = 70.8 minutes, Claymore riser).
(Image by UK government)
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Figure 29: Platform remnants after multiple final explosions after Explosion 7, where most of the platform sunk into the North Sea near Scotland.
Figure 29: Platform remnants after multiple final explosions after Explosion 7, where most of the platform sunk into the North Sea near Scotland.
(Image by UK government)
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The Aftermath

Most of the platform sunk into the North Sea near Scotland, as shown in Figure 29. Seventy workers who waited in a lunchroom for rescue perished.

'The principal causes of death [for the 121 recovered bodies] may be summarized as follows:

  • 11 of the deceased died by drowning.
  • 11 of the deceased died from injuries, including [4 from] burns.
  • 109 of the deceased died from the inhalation of smoke and gas.'

Numerous improvements in the oil and gas rig industry followed. However, the actual water hammer cause of the Piper Alpha disaster was neglected, and lives are still threatened.

Offshore Safety Improvements Following the Piper Alpha Explosions

Cullen recommended safety improvements for platform designs and operations (Cullen, L., "The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster", 1990, Click Here, click here).

    1. 'Crew accommodations moved away from production zones.
    2. Blast-proof walls between various zones.
    3. Direct fireproof chutes from living quarters to safety zones.
    4. Lifeboats accessible near crew.'

Importantly, a Smithsonian video recognized Explosions 3 and 4, and provided the above condensed list of safety improvements. Another recommendation is to shut off fuel that is being pumped to burning oil rigs. Technical recommendations to stop explosions are available (Offshore Oil Rig Explosions and Deaths Can Be Stopped - Piper Alpha Explosion Flawed Investigations, click here).

However, that video neglected important public safety information for water hammer explosions ("Piper Alpha what happened", Click Here). Additionally, explosions were cited by National Geographic, and again water hammer explosions had not yet been recognized (Piper Alfa, Click Here).

Ongoing Research to Save Lives

In this research, the cause of the Piper Alpha explosions was proven to be a process coined by this author as the Leishear Explosion Theory. Water hammer compresses flammable gases and oxygen to heat, ignite, and explode.

A fictitious flange leak did not start the Pipe Alpha explosions. However, water hammer caused a piping leak, where a water hammer-induced explosion burst the pipe and connected flange to initiate the Piper Alpha disaster.

The same Piper Alpha explosion processes detonated at Three Mile Island and Fukushima, and smaller explosions ignited at other nuclear power plants as well ("We should be afraid of nuclear power", Click Here; "Nuclear threats in nuclear power and nuclear missile defenses", Click Here, 2022).

Additional research and reinvestigations of explosions for the Gulf Oil Spill and explosions in other industries are required to ensure industrial safety. The full scope of this explosion problem is not yet known.

Lives are at Risk

The water hammer explosion was certainly the most important Piper Alpha explosion, and that explosion has not been included in any reports, videos, or investigations by others. Due to this cover-up that started in 1988, nobody presently knows the full scope of explosion dangers to offshore oil rig workers and the environment, since subsequent technical reports and investigations are flawed.

Lives are needlessly in danger. Oil rig explosions can be stopped!

Addendum

To: The United Kingdom, Department of Energy, PHMSA, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, the BSEE, the Smithsonian, and National Geographic

Incorrect Piper Alpha Investigation Report and Videos - Threats to Life and the Environment

Incorrect Piper Alpha Investigation Report and Videos - Threats to Life and the Environment

Technology has moved forward to explain Piper Alpha explosions and prevent needless deaths and oil spills, both on land and at sea. Specifically, misleading information in your reports and videos can kill oil rig workers. Recent publications prove that incorrect calculations were provided in Lord Cullen's 1990, United Kingdom, report on the Piper Alpha explosions and fatalities. Offshore oil rig explosions can be stopped. Another recent report proves that oil spills, like the Keystone oil spill in Kansas, can be stopped.

Many errors in Lord Cullen's Piper Alpha report carry over to corrupt subsequent videos and reports. The scope of this fundamental flaw is such that the lives of offshore oil and gas rig workers are jeopardized. Details and references are provided in ("Offshore oil rig explosions and deaths can be stopped - Piper Alpha explosion flawed investigation and cover-up", click here; "What really happened at the Piper Alpha oil-rig explosions - New findings - Stop killing our oil-rig workers").

As part of an industry-wide cover-up, offshore oil spills and cross-country oil spills are better understood now than ever before. Yet, the U.S. government refuses to act to stop oil spills ("The Keystone Pipeline oil spill in Kansas -The mushroom theory - Stop the oil spills", click here.

Respectfully, comments and discussion are requested. Lives and the environment can be saved!

Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, PMP

Leishear Engineering, LLC

(Article changed on Dec 27, 2022 at 6:16 PM EST)

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Robert A. Leishear, PhD, PE, ASME Fellow Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Robert A. Leishear, PhD, P.E., PMP, ASME Fellow, Who's Who in America Top Engineer, NACE Senior Corrosion Technologist, NACE Senior Internal Piping Corrosion Technologist, AMPP Certified Protective Coatings Inspector, NACE Cathodic Protection (more...)
 

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