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1988: Oilfields crippled after storage ship drifts

North Sea oil production has been dealt another blow just five months after the Piper Alpha disaster.

Three North Sea oil fields have been shut down after a giant floating storage vessel, the Medora, broke free of its moorings in gale-force winds.

The loss of the super-tanker has led to the immediate shutdown of the Fulmar and Auk fields, operated by Shell, and the Clyde Field run by Britoil which is now run by BP.

Pipelines connecting the super tanker to the oil platforms, situated 190 miles east of Dundee, were immediately shut down and could remain that way for several weeks.

Rescue helicopters have been scrambled and neighbouring platforms were put on evacuation standby but the vessel with a crew of 34 and half-full with 100,000 tonnes of crude, passed clear of them.

It is not clear how the 400 meters long Medora, which has no engines, broke away from the seabed mooring close to the Fulmar platform where it has been stationed for seven years.

Balance of payments hit

It is a blow to the industry as the oil fields have a combined output of 210,000 barrels equivalent to between 10% and 12 % of Britain's oil output of 2.1m barrels a day.

The balance of payments has already been hit by the Piper Alpha platform blaze in July.

That cut oil production in the North Sea by 10%.

The Medora is designed to withstand winds of 98mph and waves of 88ft but the conditions at the time it broke free were not at this level.

Oil from the three fields goes by pipeline to a seabed junction one and a half miles from Fulmar.

It then travels to the tanker which distributes it to smaller ships.

The Department of Energy is launching an investigation into what caused the Medora to break away.

At the current oil price of $15, 8.40, per barrel, the lost production is worth about 1.75m a day.

In Context
The Medora drifted south-east for five hours before three tugs managed to put lines aboard and pull it to safety.

The Medora was taken to Stavanger in Norway for tests and repairs.

The incident came soon after the Piper Alpha disaster in July 1988 which claimed 167 lives and remains the world's worst offshore oil disaster.

A week after the incident with the Medora there was a blast on another oil platform leading to calls for improved safety in the offshore oil industry.

Changes were gradually introduced to safeguard workers' safety.

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