Panel warns of ongoing hazards posed by offshore drilling

By | 12.16.11 | 8:20 am

The original Deepwater Horizon fire (Pic by Deepwater Horizon Response, via Flickr)

A new report issued by The National Academy of Engineering, a government-created nonprofit, concludes that the lack of regulation and ineffective safety management practices that led to BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have not been fully remedied — leaving communities in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana potentially vulnerable to another oil spill.

The blowout and explosion of BP’s Macondo well killed 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

According to National Academy’s Deepwater Horizon Committee, “companies involved in offshore drilling should take a ‘system safety’ approach to anticipating and managing possible dangers at every level of operation — from ensuring the integrity of wells to designing blowout preventers that function ‘under all foreseeable conditions.’”  In addition, according to the report, “an enhanced regulatory approach should combine strong industry safety goals with mandatory oversight at critical points during drilling operations.”

Some of the report recommendations:

  • Expanding the formal education and training of personnel engaged in offshore drilling to ensure that they can properly implement system safety.
  • Establishing guidelines so that well designs incorporate protection against the various credible risks associated with the drilling and abandonment process.
  • Testing cemented and mechanical barriers designed to contain the flow of hydrocarbons in wells, to ensure that they are effective (and subjecting those tests to independent reviews).

The study, which was sponsored the U.S. Department of Interior, also recommends the formation of a single government agency that would be responsible for integrating system safety for all offshore drilling activities. Current offshore drilling operations are governed by a number of agencies, often with overlapping authorities.

In a press release sent out yesterday, Earthjustice attorney David Guest said that “lax oversight by government” hasn’t changed, putting jobs in tourism, recreation and fishing at risk.

“It’s back to business as usual as if the BP disaster never happened,” Guest said. “The National Academy of Engineering tells us that deep water drilling still has a high risk of disaster, that the culture of corner-cutting in the industry and lax oversight by government haven’t changed. That means that the fishing communities and all the jobs in tourism and recreation in the Gulf region are at risk.”

Earthjustice filed suit against the federal government in June for conducting what it says is “a flawed environmental risk assessment” of Shell’s plan to drill in the gulf. According to Earthjustice, federal regulators have conducted “an irrationally optimistic risk assessment for  Shell Oil Company’s plan to drill for oil in deep Gulf waters near the site of BP’s devastating spill.”

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