There is another new report from the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council that is worthy of mention. This report recommends a number of corrective actions for both the oil industry and government regulators. The report, released last month, was requested by the Department of Interior. The panel of scientists and engineers said that oil companies need to focus more on safety; the blowout preventer fail-safe device on offshore rigs must be redesigned; and the government regulatory system should be overhauled — but also granted new powers and resources — to prevent a repeat of last year’s unprecedented Gulf oil spill. The report identified a long list of “suitable and cost-effective corrective actions” that the authors said would dramatically reduce the likelihood of a similar spill happening in the future. The report said:
The committee believes that material improvements to the management and safety systems used by the companies engaged in offshore oil development, along with enhancements to the regulatory regime can and should be made, and that such efforts will materially improve all aspects of safety offshore.
The report represents the “consensus view of a committee of 15 experts,” from academia, industry and government. The committee was chaired by Donald Winter, a former Secretary of the Navy and current professor of engineering at the University of Michigan. The report pointed out that government regulators were “ineffective” prior to the Deepwater Horizon rig blowout. Several government agencies are currently responsible for oversight of various aspects of drilling operations, the report said, and their responsibilities sometimes overlap. Certainly, that must change. The report says “a single U.S. government agency should be designated with responsibility for ensuring an integrated approach for system safety for all offshore drilling activities.”
Anybody who has been heavily involved in the BP litigation will tell you that the government must do a better job of training its regulators and of collecting, and studying, data on near-disasters on offshore rigs. While at times critical of regulators’ past actions, the report also recommended providing them with new powers. Government officials should review “safety-critical points” when wells are being built or abandoned. At such points, work should not be allowed to continue until regulators give their approval, according to the report. The report said:
Many challenges beyond those addressed in this report must be faced to revitalize the regulatory process. In particular, the administration and Congress will need to provide the funding and flexibility in hiring practices that will allow the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement … to enhance its capability and capacity.
Committee members also recommended a host of changes for oil companies and the contractors they rely on. It was stated in the report that the lack of a strong corporate safety culture is evident in “the multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout.” Industrial management involved with the disaster failed to appreciate or plan for the safety challenges presented by the Macondo well, according to the report. It strongly recommended that workers be better-trained.
The failure to focus on safety in corporate research was said to be a problem. The efforts of industry and government relating to research and development “have been focused disproportionately on exploration, drilling, and production technologies as opposed to safety,” the report said. The fact that multiple corporations are often behind a single drilling operation can also complicate safety efforts.
BP PLC, Halliburton and Transocean – and all of the wrongdoers responsible for the massive oil spill — have often attempted to deflect responsibility to one another in the wake of the spill. A well’s “operating leaseholder company” should take the lead in implementing safety procedures for the entire process, the report said. Companies and regulators also need to do a better job of disclosing, and learning from, their drilling mistakes, according to the report. It was stated in the report:
Corporations should investigate all such reports and disseminate their lessons-learned findings in a timely manner to all their operating and decision-making personnel and to the industry as a whole.
A large segment of the report was dedicated to a discussion relating to the blowout preventer (BOP), a fail-safe device on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The report said that “(t)he BOP system was neither designed nor tested for the dynamic conditions that most likely existed at the time that attempts were made to recapture well control. Furthermore, the design, test, operation, and maintenance of the BOP system were not consistent with a high-reliability, fail-safe device.”
Both the industry and its regulators had “numerous warnings” about blowout preventers, yet neither “responded to these past accidents in an appropriate manner.” The devices should be redesigned and then tested under the difficult conditions that would be present in an emergency, rather than the more optimal conditions used during previous testing, the report added.
Source: Associated Press
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