BP Blowout One Year Later: Drilling Safety an Explosive Issue

BP Blowout One Year Later: Drilling Safety an Explosive Issue

WASHINGTON, DC, April 18, 2011 (ENS) – Hundreds of activists protesting fossil fuels marched to the Department of the Interior’s headquarters today and swarmed inside, calling for the abolition of offshore oil drilling, coal mining and tar sands extraction. The demonstration was timed to mark the one year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, 2010 that killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Police report 21 people were arrested, including residents of California, Georgia, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wyoming, and Washington, DC.

“For all practical purposes, Louisiana and the Gulf Coast function as a third world resource colony within the U.S. For a hundred years, our people and ecosystems have been sacrificed to provide cheap energy and big profits,” said Devin Martin, a native Cajun from southern Louisiana.

Protesters outside the Department of the Interior in Washington, DC, April 18, 2011 (Photo courtesy DC Rising Tide)

“We pay for the hidden costs of oil and gas with our health and our lives through air pollution, oil spills, and a completely corrupted state government. We already lose a football field of coastal marsh every 38 minutes, and now rising sea levels from climate change will put my home, including New Orleans, under water permanently.”

Today’s march and sit-in are a preview of Rising Tide North America’s “Day of Action against Extraction” set for April 20. Protests by Gulf Coast residents fighting offshore drilling, Appalachians resisting mountaintop removal coal mining, Texas, Pennsylvania and New York residents opposing natural gas hydrofracking, Canadians fighting tar sands mining in Alberta, are planned. Protests also are slated for the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

On the government side, the new Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee held its first meeting today, setting deepwater drilling safety, oil spill source containment and cleanup as its top priorities.

Chaired by former Sandia National Laboratory Director Dr. Tom Hunter, the committee is made up of 15 scientific, engineering and technical experts from federal agencies, the offshore oil and gas industry, universities and research organizations.

Dr. Thomas Hunter chairs the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee (Photo courtesy Sandia National Lab)

The committee will advise the Secretary of the Interior through the Director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, BOEMRE. This is the agency that once was the Minerals Management Service until internal corruption was exposed in a report by the U.S. Inspector General last May, about a month after the BP well blowout.

The IG’s report probed a culture of complacency and arrogance, where MMS executives accepted gifts, money, sports tickets, drugs, vacations, and jobs from oil corporations, including BP.

Renamed and reorganized last year under the leadership of Michael Bromwich, a former federal prosecutor and inspector general for the Department of Justice, BOEMRE is refocused on safety, says Bromwich.

“The Safety Committee is an important part of our continuing efforts to reduce the risks associated with offshore energy production on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf,” Bromwich said today. “I look forward to the committee’s recommendations as we continue to move toward safer, more environmentally responsible offshore energy development and production.”

But environmentalists say the agency has made only surface changes and remains too cozy with the people it is charged with regulating.

Interior officials admit there is much more to do before deepwater drilling is truly safe, but meanwhile, the federal government will contine to review drilling applications and issue permits.

In a speech Thursday in Washington, Bromwich said, “We will implement reforms necessary to make offshore oil and gas production safer. The processing of drilling permit applications and proposed drilling plans will not be delayed while these additional reforms are developed.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today urged committee members to work together to help strengthen the nation’s offshore drilling safety, well containment, and spill response “as we explore new energy frontiers.”

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, right, and BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich, second from left, tour Noble Energy’s drilling rig, April 13, 2011. (Photo courtesy DOI)

“In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, many have recognized the need for more collaboration among government, industry and academia to develop cutting-edge, effective, and easily deployable technologies for prevention, containment and response,” Salazar said. “This committee, with some of the nation’s brightest minds from all three areas, will facilitate future cooperation and assist the Department in implementing our offshore drilling safety reform agenda,” he said.

Last week Salazar and Bromwich toured the first deepwater drilling project permitted since the Obama administration imposed a deepwater drilling moratorium in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout – Houston-based Noble Energy’s Santiago prospect 70 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, in which BP is a non-operating partner.

Noble spent two months drilling 13,580 feet below the sea surface before it had to plug the well under the moratorium.

Noble was the first operator to demonstrate in a permit application that it is capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur. During a tour of the Ensco 8501 rig about to begin drilling the bypass well for Noble Energy, the two officials examined new testing systems and checked out a blowout preventer.

“The deepwater operations that are resuming in the Gulf of Mexico are meeting the stronger safety and environmental protection requirements we have set, including the requirement that companies show they are prepared to respond to subsea blowouts and spills,” said Salazar.

The Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee is intended as a first step toward establishing the proposed Ocean Energy Safety Institute, which would facilitate collaborative research and development, training and execution in these and other areas relating to offshore energy safety going forward.

The committee will provide advice on how best to establish the institute, and on what role OESC should play as the institute takes shape.

The group’s first meeting included presentations from three expert panels: on the findings and recommendations of the President’s Commission on the BP Oil Spill, the investigations into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon blowout by the National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council Committee and the Chief Counsel of the President’s Commission, and the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon containment and response efforts.

At the direction of the Unified Command, BP contractors burn off surface oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico to keep it from reaching shore, sending clouds of pollution into the atmosphere. June 13, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Deepwater drilling companies are multinational corporations with operations around the world. To engage other countries in reducing the risks of oil spills from offshore deepwater drilling, the Interior Department held a Ministerial Forum last week to share lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and promote collaborative solutions.

Ministers and senior officials attended from: Angola, Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, Russia, and the European Union as well as the United States.

“As Interior works to set the gold standard for our deepwater development, we look forward to collaborating with offshore oil producing nations on the development of cutting-edge projects and common standards,” said Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes, who moderated one of the sessions.

“It is important that we work together with our international colleagues to learn from each other and develop global containment capabilities,” said Bromwich. “Today was an important first step in this effort, and I hope that we continue this conversation in the future.”

James Dupree, BP regional president, Gulf of Mexico, was among those at the Ministerial Forum as part of the company’s onoging effort to learn from its costly mistakes.

“Last autumn we made an ongoing commitment to share what we’ve learned and the experience we gained during the Deepwater Horizon incident response with the world,” said Dupree. “We have shared our insights with regulators, participated in public forums, worked directly with industry bodies and published our lessons learned.”

In February, BP joined the newly formed Marine Well Containment Company, MWCC. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, the not-for-profit, independent organization is staging state-of-the-art equipment in the gulf to contain spills.

Mobile offshore drilling unit Q4000 in position over the damaged Deepwater Horizon well as crews work unsuccessfully to plug the wellhead using a technique known as “top kill,” May 26, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Chevron, ConocoPhillips ExxonMobil and Shell founded MWCC, which now also includes Anadarko, Apache, BHP Billiton and Statoil – all companies with operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Joining the MWCC and bringing our capabilities and equipment to an interim response system is another important part of that commitment,” said Dupree.

MWCC’s chief executive officer is Marty Massey, formerly with ExxonMobil Production. “Our objective is to ensure that the well containment response system is in a state of continuous operational readiness to facilitate rapid deployment and response in the event that it is required,” Massey said.

MWCC’s interim containment system is engineered to be used in deepwater down to 8,000 feet and has capacity to contain 60,000 barrels per day of liquid and 120 million standard cubic feet per day of gas with potential for expansion. It includes capping valves and dispersant injection capability.

BOEMRE has reviewed the functional specifications of the interim containment system, and its input has been included in the final specification.

BP will bring to the MWCC the riser, manifold and containment systems used during the Deepwater Horizon response. In addition to the transfer of equipment, BP will contribute the company’s information and supporting records, drawings, permits, licenses and other technical information it developed throughout the spill response.

Oil production in the Gulf of Mexico accounts for 30 percent of U.S. oil and gas production and supports more than 170,000 American jobs.

{Editor’s Note: Environment News Service has published close to 100 reports about the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, oil spill and related legal and protest actions. To read any or all of them, click here, and type BP on the search line.}

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