In 2013, a blowout preventer (BOP) exploded on an oil rig operated by Hercules Offshore, in an accident that shared some similarities with the BOP explosion that caused the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. In the case of Hercules Offshore, the rig was pumping natural gas, not liquid oil, and resulted in only injuries to the rig crew because of a timely evacuation. The rig itself was entirely destroyed. At the time of the explosion, Hercules Offshore held ISO 9001 certification by ABS-QE, a certification body (CB) accredited by ANAB under the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) aegis. Hercules maintained its certification even after the accident.

The BP Oil management company that oversaw operations of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded and caused the largest manmade environmental disaster in history, held ISO 9001 certification.

A subsequent US Dept. of Interior study of the Hercules BOP explosion found multiple root causes, including personnel failing to detect signs of the pending explosion ahead of time, poor reaction time and immediate responses, and the closure of safety “rams” being executed too late, leading to the decision to evacuate the rig.

The rig had mixed inspection results prior to the explosion. According to an in-depth article written by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and official government inspection reports, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement found that rig operator Walter Oil & Gas had inadequate documentation of a high-pressure test conducted in July of 2013, just one month prior to the explosion. But another inspection thereafter found the BOP itself was in compliance.

Annual reports published by Hercules Offshore reveal the company obtained ISO 9001 from ABS-QE and then consistently “retained” it every year thereafter until the company was liquidated during bankruptcy after the explosion. It also held SO 14001 environmental management certification from ABS-QE. But in addition to these, ABS-QE claims to have enrolled Hercules Offshore in an additional inspection program, and then used their name in marketing in its 2011 Annual Report.

Clients not only received the powerful maintenance management software, but also the Survey Planning Document which is used by ABS surveyors to inspect areas of the hull structure. A requirement of the ABS Rules for Building and Classing Mobile Offshore Drilling Units, this document identifies critical structural areas and stipulates the minimum extent, location and means of close visual inspection, giving owners a means for maintaining compliance with the ABS Rules for Survey After Construction. Seadrill Management and Hercules Offshore were among the offshore companies that enrolled to take advantage of the program’s benefits.

Seadrill Management also collapsed in bankruptcy. In 2010, an oil and gas rig owned by Seadrill exploded in Timor, resulting in one of Australia’s worst oil disasters. Seadrill does not appear to have had ISO 9001 certification at any time, however.

Annual reports issued by Hercules Offshore in 2014 indicate the company nevertheless “maintained” its ISO 9001 certification even after the BOP explosion. As a result, it appears that despite a dangerous rig explosion that raised questions about its survey program, ABS-QE did not suspend or withdraw the company’s ISO 9001 certification, but instead re-granted it.

ANAB records show that ABS-QE had its accreditation temporarily suspended in February of 2011 for undisclosed nonconformities. That suspension was lifted only 54 days later, without explanation. That suspension was unlikely due to anything related to either ABS-QE’s role in the oil industry, nor its ISO 9001 certification activities, since the suspension included every accreditation it held from ANAB. This hints at a simple paperwork glitch that was corrected quickly.

Oxebridge’s reporting is finding a consistent pattern where companies maintain their ISO 9001 certification even after public disasters, scandals,  and even criminal indictments and convictions. A 2018 update to ANAB Accreditation Rule 5 (AR05) provides its accredited CBs some cover, saying that “A CB may certify an organization or permit its certification to continue despite observed legal noncompliances,” meaning that even if a company is found to be breaking the law, ANAB will honor an ISO 9001 certificate granted to it. This appears to contradict the language of ISO 9001, which requires a company’s quality system to satisfactorily address “applicable statutory and regulatory requirements” and to manage the risks associated with them.

ANAB and the IAF have consistently refused to offer explanations for how their logos appear on companies involved in such incidents. ANAB is paid by the CBs it accredits, making it a poor business decision to de-accredit any certification body, no matter if malpractice is discovered.

 

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