How Often Should Oil Rigs be Inspected?

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On April 20, 2010, a blowout occurred at the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. 11 people lost their lives, and as the semisubmersible rig sank due to an inextinguishable fire, the gushing well led to the largest marine oil spill in history.

What was the cause of this catastrophe? A lack of cement between a 7-inch production casing and a 9 ⅞ inch protection casing. The loss of 11 crewmen and thousands of marine mammals and sea turtles came down to a matter of inches.

But on an oil rig, every inch matters. That’s why efficient, routine inspections of rigging equipment are essential. As it turns out, the Deepwater Horizon rig had missed 16 inspections prior to its explosion, begging the question – couldn’t this tragedy have been prevented with more frequent, thorough inspections?

But how often should inspections be conducted?

We’ll walk you through the basic guidelines and considerations for the inspection frequency of onshore and offshore oil rigging equipment. We’ll also provide tips on how to optimize inspection procedures in order to enhance performance and ensure the protection of personnel and the environment.

Blowout Preventer Inspections

A blowout preventer (BOP) is a stack of valves and pipes designed to stop oil and gas from gushing upward during an accident. The BOP on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon, as you can guess, failed to seal the well, resulting in the massive oil spill.

According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), “you must maintain and inspect your BOP system to ensure that the equipment functions as designed.” This includes meeting API Standard 53, developed by the Standard American Petroleum Institute (API). The recommended inspection frequency is as follows:
  • Every 5 years:
    A detailed inspection of the well control system components – including riser, BOP, LMRP & control pods. This can be completed in phases.
  • Every 3 days:
    A visual inspection of your subsea BOP system, marine riser & wellhead. This can be conducted with cameras.
  • Daily:
    A visual inspection of your surface BOP system.
Furthermore, the API has specific BOP handling system inspection recommendations, such as visual inspections:
  • Before replacing gaskets or seals.
  • Before transporting a BOP stack.
Components of all BOP handling systems in the primary load path, it says, “shall be subject to an annual inspection.” Unlike visual inspections, this annual inspection is designed to reveal defects that the naked eye can’t catch.

It’s important to note, however, that the frequency and scope of inspections depend on environmental conditions, equipment age, deterioration and other variables.


Cranes improve the speed and safety of oil rigging.  They also help lift heavy equipment and supplies at both onshore and offshore rigs. Two common cranes used at rigging facilities are lattice boom and overhead cranes.

OSHA states that a thorough inspection of all cranes should take place annually. In addition, a “competent person” should also inspect a crane prior to and during each use to make sure it’s safe.

Depending on the type of crane, you should also follow the manufacturer’s instructions on when and how to perform inspections.

Mast, Derrick & Substructure

According to the API, a thorough visual inspection (Category III) of all load-bearing components to check the condition of a mast, derrick or substructure should be conducted every 2 years.

Every 10 years, a more rigorous inspection (Category IV) of the same components with the addition of non-destructive testing (NDT) methods for welds and critical joints should take place.

Drilling Rigs

When it comes to thorough rig inspections, the golden rule is: the more, the better. This will increase the chances of identifying issues that may have arisen due to wear and tear before they become a major problem, while ensuring that all components are operating efficiently. There are several stages and intervals at which a rig inspection is necessary:
  • Pre-hire / pre-drill
    A pre-hire or pre-drill inspection should be performed by a 3rd party prior to hiring a rig. The goal of this inspection is to make sure that you are hiring a reliable, safe rig that is suitable for a contract. An inspection should also take place at the start of any drilling campaign or any time it’s moved to a different location or company.
  • During the contract
    It’s important to inspect a rig during the contract to make sure it’s operating efficiently and in compliance with the contract and industry standards. This inspection can be conducted by the owner or operator. A full condition survey can be done every 2 years in order to assess the condition of the rig and its mechanical and electrical compliance.
  • Daily
    A rig check is an effective method to increase on-site safety through visual and operational checks. This should be done once per shift during the pre-operational inspection and once per shift during the operational inspection.

Inspection Frequency Variables

The frequency of onshore and offshore rig inspections depends on a number of factors. The condition of the rig, contract requirements and operating conditions must all be taken into consideration in order to optimize performance and safety.

Mandates from regulatory bodies will also affect inspection frequency. For example, the BSEE, which regulates offshore operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), conducts annual inspections of all safety equipment, as well as monthly inspections and periodic unannounced inspections of facilities.

Therefore, it’s important for operators to conduct their own inspections and keep all documents in order to make sure they’re prepared for these visits and don’t receive an issue of non-compliance (INC).

Improve Your Inspection Processes

To increase speed and overall efficiency, on-site inspections conducted on mobile devices (as opposed to paper forms that can be easily lost or damaged) have proven worthwhile. Using digital inspection forms can even increase the frequency at which you perform inspections due to the quickness of its data collection & reporting capabilities.

FastField provides a digital solution to improve inspection operations. Conduct on-site inspections using a mobile device. With offline capabilities, inspections can be conducted on even the most remote rigs.

FastField makes it easy to create easy-to-use mobile forms with embedded multi-media features to capture thorough evidence. With FastField, you can also set up an automated forms workflow for multi-step approvals and follow-up tasks. Receive alerts when inspection scores are not up to par and monitor data insights on a customizable dashboard.

Inspect the Unexpected

In light of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, it is apparent that frequent, thorough inspections of drilling assets can help with early detection of hazards and defects – often in the most unexpected places. Following industry best practices and regulatory mandates while adjusting for the unique conditions of your own equipment and environment, make sure that your operations optimize safety, quality and productivity.

*Note: The above recommendations for inspection frequencies do not apply to all facilities and operations. As mentioned, the scope and frequency of inspections depend on the unique conditions of assets, contracts, the environment and more. Refer to current industry standards and government regulations for inspection timelines and procedures.
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