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Piper Alpha oil and gas platform disaster in central North Sea, Scotland

On 6 July 1988, explosions ripped through the Piper Alpha platform. Engulfed in fire, over the next hours the topside modules collapsed into the sea. 167 men died and others were injured.


In 1972, four companies, that will become the OPCAL joint venture, obtained a licence of exploration for oil in the North Sea, leading to the “discovery” of the Piper oilfield the next year. They built the platform, pipelines and onshore support structures, and the production started in 1976. Piper Alpha became extremely productive. Soon, the operator Occidental sought permission to increase rates, and the decision was taken to do not just do gas treatment but also export. The gas plant was modified and the export began in 1978. [1,3] The Piper field exported 300,000 barrels a day via a pipeline to the Flotta terminal in the Orkney Islands and was at the heart of a complex of six producing fields, being the centre for oil and gas exports to the British mainland, accounted for about 12% of British production. [8]

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Piper Alpha oil and gas platform disaster in central North Sea, Scotland
Country:United Kingdom
State or province:North Sea
Location of conflict:120 miles (190km) from Aberdeen
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Natural Gas
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Piper oilfield “discovered” by OCPAL in 1973 is located 58°28′N 0°15′E. Oil production started in 1976 with about 250,000 barrels (40,000 m3) of oil per day, increasing to 300,000 barrels (48,000 m3). [3]

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project5,000,000,000 [1]
Type of populationUnknown
Start of the conflict:06/06/1988
Company names or state enterprises:Occidental Petroleum (OXY) from United States of America
Texaco Petroleum Co. from United States of America
Total from France
Relevant government actors:Department of Energy, UK Government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Survivors and relatives of those who died formed the Piper Alpha Families and Survivors' Association.
An effect of the Piper Alpha disaster was the establishment of a trade union, the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee.
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Families of the victims
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Fires
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Other Health impactsSevere burns and fractures [7], survivor guilt, chronic dissociative symptoms, post-traumatic stress disorder [9]
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Other socio-economic impactsIssue on re-employment of survivors [4] [9]
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Institutional changes
New legislation
Proposal and development of alternatives:- North Sea safety being shifted from the Department of Energy to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to avoid conflicts of interests. [5]
- Offshore Safety Act (1992)
- Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations (1992).
- In 2013, a three days conference in Aberdeen on industry safety issues and Piper Alpha's lessons.
- Piper Alpha Families and Survivor's Association (campaigning on North Sea safety issues).
- Insurance claim around US$1.4 billion.
- Establishment of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, a trade union.
- Study on the long-term psychological and social effects of Piper Alpha at the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research.
- Memorial sculpture in Aberdeen by the Scottish artist Sue Jane Taylor, with the music "Tuireadh" written by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. For the 20th anniversary, Lest We Forget, a theatre play.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:There was terrible loss of life.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Fiona Macleod CEng FIChemE and Stephen Richardson. The Chemical Engineer. 6 July 2018.
[click to view]

[2] Cullen, W.D.: The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster, HMSO, London, 1990
[click to view]

[7] Alexander, D.A. (1993). The Piper Alpha Oil Rig Disaster. In: Wilson, J.P., Raphael, B. (eds) International Handbook of Traumatic Stress Syndromes. The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping. Springer, Boston, MA.
[click to view]

[8] Norman Hooke, Maritime Casualties, 1963-1996, second edition, LLP, ISBN 1859781101

[9] Hull, A., Alexander, D., & Klein, S. (2002). Survivors of the Piper Alpha oil platform disaster: Long-term follow-up study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 181(5), 433-438. doi:10.1192/bjp.181.5.433
[click to view]

[3] Piper Alpha Wikipedia page.
[click to view]

[4] Peter Ross, The night the sea caught fire: remembering Piper Alpha, Scotland on Sunday, 15th June 2008.
[click to view]

[5] Helen Gavaghan, Piper Alpha rewrite the rules on offshore safety, 17 November 1990.
[click to view]

[6] Engineering Disasters: The Failure, Explosion, and Sinking of the Piper Alpha Platform, Bright Hub Engineering, 04/29/2011.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[10] Risk Engineering. The Piper Alpha disaster. By Eric Marsden. 2019-11-03. Last updated: 2022-05-04
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice team (NL & JMA)
Last update01/10/2022
Conflict ID:6140
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