The Beacon

New Report: Offshore Drilling Still Not Safe

The Deepwater Horizon site at night. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Michael Craig is an Energy Analyst at Oceana.

It’s been just over a year and a half since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but the offshore drilling industry is already back to full steam ahead, with as many rigs drilling in deepwater in the Gulf as two years ago.

They say it’s safe. But is it?

The government and industry have pointed to new safety measures implemented by the former Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). But little analysis has been done assessing these new measures – until now.

Last week Oceana released a new analysis that examines how effective the new safety measures will be in preventing future spills and improving offshore safety. In doing so, we systemically look at what went wrong leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and conclude that the new safety measures can not guarantee against future spills, and furthermore likely would not have prevented the BP spill from occurring.

Overall, we find that the new safety measures are undermined by two factors: overarching problems in offshore regulation and flaws in the safety measures themselves.

Some of the overarching problems in the regulation of offshore drilling that the new safety measures do not address include:

  • Perverse financial incentives encourage corner-cutting and saving time at the expense of safety.
  • Blowout preventers, one of which memorably failed to stop the Deepwater Horizon blowout, have critical deficiencies that make it more likely they will not be able to prevent blowouts.
  • The government’s inspection and oversight capabilities are woefully inadequate to ensure that companies follow the rules and operate in a safe manner.
  • The offshore industry’s culture of prioritizing profits over safety has not substantively changed.

And the flaws in the safety measures themselves include:  

  • New safety measures that address testing and maintenance won’t work because there is inadequate inspection and oversight by the government to ensure companies abide by them.
  • The American Petroleum Institute, which lobbies on behalf of the offshore oil and gas industry, is allowed to license independent third parties that are supposed to verify some of the new safety measures. This is a clear conflict of interest and undermines those safety measures.
  • New regulations that require two additional independent barriers to be installed in wells so as to help protect against blowouts are severely flawed, as they allow dual safety valves, which are widely known to not be effective barriers, to qualify as barriers.

It’s as if government and industry have forgotten that the worst accidental offshore spill in world history occurred just over a year ago, the negative effects of which are still being uncovered in Gulf communities and ecosystems.

Only by shifting away from offshore drilling and investing in a clean energy economy can we prevent future spills and protect our environments and communities from harm, all while growing our economy.

Our report and its online appendix delve into all of these and more problems in detail, and we encourage you to check it out, and take action to help us stop expanded offshore drilling!

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