The heavy lift ship Forte, carrying the Noble Regina Allen drilling rig, was anchored near McNabs Island in November 2017. Photo: Halifax Examiner

ExxonMobil Canada has paid a fine of $40,000 for failing to comply with an offshore regulation that nearly cost a man his life.

The fine was issued July 12 by the Canada Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) after a lengthy investigation into a reported incident last November 5, 2018. On that day, 225 pounds of rigging equipment, including a 52-foot chain and tackle, fell within one foot of an employee working on the platform of a drilling unit hired to plug abandoned natural gas wells near Sable Island.

In a new release a few days later, after it had been reported by allnovascotia.com, the CNSOPB described the incident as “a near miss with the potential for a fatality.” The regulator reported five people were working at the time the winch let go, but refused to confirm information published by the Halifax Examiner and others that the load came within inches of striking a worker. Yesterday, the CNSOPB issued a news release indicating the fine had been imposed because ExxonMobil Canada was in violation of Section 25(a) of the Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Drilling and Production Regulations. It reads:

The operator shall ensure that all wells, installations, equipment and facilities are designed, constructed, tested, maintained and operated to prevent incidents and waste under the maximum load conditions that may be reasonably anticipated during any operation.

Specifically, the release from the regulator went on to say, “equipment used in a lifting operation that took place on the Noble Regina Allen drilling unit under contract to ExxonMobil was not maintained and operated in a manner that prevented the incident.”

In a rare and welcome move by what the CNSOPB characterized “in the interest of greater public transparency,” the regulator also released the Notice of Violation report issued to ExxonMobil. This document finally spells out the details of what happened aboard the Noble Regina Allen that could have had tragic consequences for more than one employee working in close proximity to the falling load.

In broad strokes, the winch that dropped its 225-lb weight without warning was caused by a missing or ill-fitting or poorly maintained part called a cotter pin that is integral to the proper working of a shackle connected to the winch. Here’s how the Notice of Violation explains what the investigation determined:

Three of the four parts making-up the failed shackle were found in the area adjacent to the dropped lifting-arrangement equipment. The fourth part, the cotter pin, could not be located. The failure of the shackle was caused by the nut failing to be retained by the cotter pin, the nut loosening, the bolt separating from the shackle bow, allowing the equipment used in the lifting-arrangement to detach from the wire-rope-eye and drop. Maintenance and operating practices, including inspections, for the involved 4-part shackle were not adequate to prevent the failure and resulting incident.

Furthermore, “the CNSOPB’s post-incident inspection on November 6-8, 2018 observed several issues with the use of cotter pins in 4-part shackles. There were shackles with cotter pins that were missing, shackles that had old pins that were reused, pins improperly sized for the hole in the bolt, pins showing signs of corrosion, and improperly installed / secured cotter pins. Replacement cotter pins were not readily available.”

This prompted the CNSOPB to publish a Safety Notice on November 30, 2018. An outside observer might genuinely marvel at fines so low as to be insignificant for a multinational corporation such as ExxonMobil making billions of dollars in profits each year. And whether the fine would have been any higher had the worker below the winch been struck and killed.

In a self-congratulatory news release nine months after the incident, the CNSOPB says it undertook “significant effort to ensure that correctives were developed and implemented by the Operator to address the root causes and to prevent a similar occurrence including the use of a different type of lifting arrangement. These included enhanced quarantine practices for loose lifting gear, additional training on safe lifting practices, and a number of other measures which strengthened the overall safety management system.”

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. Mobil (as it was then) operated the Ocean Ranger: 84 men killed in 1982 off Newfoundland. ExxonMobil = egregious repeat offender. $40,000 is a pathetic fine, but your story about this—and the regulator’s public chastising—are worth so much for those workers out there. Thank you.