Multimillion dollar offshore drilling rigs and subsea drilling equipment can be rendered worthless if their most basic components, the nuts and bolts that hold them together, fail. Since 2013, investigators with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”) have been investigating why bolts used in subsea oil equipment have suddenly, and without warning, failed. These bolt failures have caused shut-downs and increased safety concerns for possible catastrophic well events. At least one subsea equipment provider has issued a global recall for faulty bolts on its blowout preventers (“BOP”). Flaws have also been found in BOP’s manufactured by other companies.
These bolts failure are now on BSEE’s radar. Indeed, BSEE has issued Safety Alert 318 warning of “the recurring problem of connector and bolt failures in various components used in risers and subsea BOP’s used in offshore operations.” BSEE’s regulators are currently working with drilling companies, manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute (“API”) to create new standards for minimum hardness and coating of subsea equipment bolts, as well as guidelines for assembly and installation of the bolts. The API has proposed replacing “critical bolts” that do not meet the proposed hardness standard by 2017. It is estimated that this issue could affect more than 2,400 platforms and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
The reason for the bolt failures has yet to be determined. It is likely that the alloys used in heavy steel bolts are not hard enough to survive in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Alternatively, excessive tightening or “over-torqueing” could be causing the failures.
New BSEE regulations require greater reporting of breakdowns and failures, including bolt failures. Thus, offshore drillers and support companies would be wise to heed BSEE’s Safety Alert and inspect the bolts in their equipment for failures. Preventative maintenance and replacement of bolts that are not up to specifications can prevent catastrophic and costly failures in the future as well as significant regulatory penalties.
For information concerning BSEE’s Safety Alert No. 318, please see www.BSEE.gov/bolts.