Environmentalists: Offshore drilling still too risky, despite new rules

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Matthew Tresaugue

The government imposed new regulations and requirements designed to make offshore drilling safer in the wake of last year’s oil spill, but the risks of another Deepwater Horizon disaster are still too high, environmentalists concluded Friday.

According to an analysis by the advocacy group Oceana, the new regulations don’t go far enough — and would not have stopped last year’s oil spill, even if they had been in place April 19, 2010 — a day before the lethal blowout of BP’s Macondo well.

“When you compare the new rules to the things that went wrong on the BP rig, it’s obvious that those same problems could go terribly wrong again, in spite of the so-called safety rules,” said Oceana senior campaign director and senior scientist Jacqueline Savitz. “The chance of a devastating spill is just as high as a year and a half ago.”

Savitz called on the Obama administration’s Interior Department to stop issuing new offshore drilling permits since they “can’t assure safety” and “that’s the only way to prevent new oil spills.”

Oceana unveiled its 32-page report analyzing offshore drilling regulations this morning, during a Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami, Fla.

Speaking at the same event on Wednesday night, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stressed the government’s “oil and gas reforms” since the 2010 spill.

“We must not forget the lessons of Deepwater Horizon,” he said. “We must press forward with our oil and gas reforms. We must keep our commitment to Gulf Coast restoration and reinvest the penalties where they belong.”

Specifically, Oceana flagged possible problems with the blowout preventers that are used as last-ditch emergency blockades against uncontrolled surges of oil and gas from wells. A government-led probe of the blowout preventer used to secure the Macondo well concluded in March that powerful blind shear rams on the device were unable to completely slash through slightly off-center drill pipe, seal the well hole and trap oil and gas underground.

Ocean said the finding raises troubling questions about the standard design of blowout preventers that still haven’t been addressed by the federal government.

Officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have said they soon will propose new offshore drilling requirements — likely including new mandates for blowout preventers. But it could take a year or two for the new requirements to go from proposal to being an enforceable regulation.

Oceana also concluded that current offshore inspection programs are “woefully inadequate.” The government is conducting more inspections now, but the cash-strapped drilling agencies still are unable to conduct “strong oversight of the tens of thousands of wells in the water,” Oceana said. “The Deepwater Horizon incident highlights an urgent need for oversight of critical operations in real time — as they are occurring — even when rigs have previously been inspected for safety.”

Although the environmental group focused on federal regulators, it also faulted the oil and gas industry for not doing more to improve its safety culture in the wake of the spill. As evidence, Oceana points to industry leaders’ oft-repeated push for speedier permitting of offshore drilling projects. That, Oceana says, underscores the industry’s “business as usual approach.”

Industry officials had a brighter view. Erik Milito, the director of upstream operations for the American Petroleum Institute, stressed that “we have a strong regulatory program in place.”

“We’re going to move forward to make sure that we don’t have another event like that again,” Milito added.

Administration officials also have broadly defended their drilling safety changes and insist that offshore oil and gas exploration is much safer than it was before the 2010 spill.

The Obama administration has asked Congress to give the safety bureau and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management more money to hire new inspectors and engineers that can keep a close watch on what is happening offshore. Agency officials also have implored lawmakers to boost the civil penalties that can be imposed whenever oil and gas companies run afoul of regulations governing energy production on the outer continental shelf.

Oceana’s Offshore Safety Report

7 Comments

  1. Enviro Sense

    I guess since the safety of driving cannot be assured, all governments should stop issuing drivers licenses as well. Or since the safety of crossing the road cannot be assured, Oceana should be required to stay on one side of the road…..obviously the left side.

    #1
  2. Thank goodness some bloggers can still write. Thanks for this blog post!!!

    #2
  3. rellufnalla

    Oceana’s viewpoint is stated clearly in the last paragraph of their published conclusion.

    “Only by stopping offshore drilling entirely will we be able to avert disastrous spills and significant economic and environmental harm.”

    Their position is they will never approve of offshore drilling and they will always oppose any rule or measure that ultimately allows for environmentally safe offshore exploration and production.

    #3
  4. Paul

    Enviro Sense, “the left” side of the road is a lot cleaner than the right. You tell me what’s safer…millions of people driving vehicles that range in size from motorcycles to 18-wheelers on poor roads at high speeds and with merging lanes (not to mention all of the distractions and obstacles such as billboards, poor signage/address labeling, construction, etc.) OR building a mixture of low and high speed solar/wind/hydrogen powered rail system surrounded by walls in order to prevent accidents?

    It’s also MUCH cheaper…ESPECIALLY in the long run if we built it correctly, it would also get us from point A to point B quicker, and would it would also eliminate the need for a lot of “work.” Of course, that would also require the will and conscience of our “leaders” to recognize, understand and give a s**t about the concept of our workforce working TOWARDS having less work to do…and therefore…working less over time. It’s OUR lives…and there’s just no way in hell we SHOULD be “working” as much as we do. So much of our economy is based on dealing with money…which says a lot about our TRUE “moral character” and our tendencies. We are poisoning our air, our food, our minds and our bodies…and for what? So the rich can get richer?

    We have a lot of waking up to do.

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  5. I believe you are right completely!!!

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  6. pacificoil

    Good lord Paul…please never do that again. Enviro’s comparison of drilling to driving and crossing the street was not one to be expanded upon – it was a beautiful, simple, little analogy and should have been left as such. You attempted to draw lines and continue down its path and failed miserably. You split off on to 18 wheelers, poor roads, merging lanes…blah, blah, blah at which point I had every urge to quit reading, however pressed on hoping you would bring it back together – you did not. Instead you wrote two paragraphs that could have been summed up in two sentences; “Solar, wind, and hydrogen are safer so we should explore them further in the future” and “I really have no idea what the heck I am talking about when it comes to this stuff.” Done and done. I will not dispute safety concerns with you as solar and wind are undoubtedly safer means to harness energy, however your second paragraph discussing them in another almost indecipherable code was quite a ways off. First off, please, please explain to me how they are cheaper or in any way shape of form economically and fiscally sound. They are not and will not be for a very long time. And last thing I remember weren’t our “leaders” dumping vast amounts of resources into these industries – ie Solyndra and billions of dollars in DOE loans to solar companies in CA?

    After that you lost me with all your caps and quotation marks.

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  7. BS

    Paul, you live in LA LA land.

    #7