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What’s Changed About Deepwater Drilling Since Macondo? Not a Lot.

April 20th at 9:50 pm central time marked the exact time that BP’s deepwater well named Macondo blew out, killing eleven workers, destroying Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon, and putting 5 million barrels of oil into the water 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  Most of the world has moved on since then, thinking that everything in the Gulf is okey-dokey, and anxious to hear the latest news on Janet Jackson and Dancing with the Stars.  In the meantime, the industry is back to drilling the deepwater, oil continues to come ashore, and deformed seafood has begun to occur in alarming numbers.  And what is our Congress doing about offshore safety?  Going backwards by passing legislation in the House that actually reduces environmental review of new offshore leases. This blog spent most of 2010 talking about the blowout and subsequent spill, trying to make sense out of the nonsense coming out of BP and much of the media.  Hopefully we helped change the conversation by explaining the mechanics and politics about what was going on.  BP was successful, with the help of the US government, in getting the 24/7 news coverage shut down in July of 2010 when they undertook a dangerous shut-in procedure that exceeded the design capacity of several wellhead components.  Since then, the President’s Oil Spill Commission did a study of the accident, issuing their report, and the Joint Investigation between the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (the old MMS) completed an intensive investigation. The fault for the blowout was clearly BP’s since they were the operator of record of the Macondo well.  Cultural issues, hubris, and complacency, combined with poor design and poor decision making all collided into the conflagration that was the blowout.  Inexperienced government officials, BP’s obfuscation, and politicians’ desire to get the blowing out off the television made matters worse.  Since then, the government has continued to ignore the extent of the damage, and Americans are either ignorant or uninterested about where their gasoline comes from.  The beat goes on. Last week, former members of the Spill Commission issued a follow up report about government and industry actions since their initial report was issued.  Congress got the lowest grade, D, for obvious reasons.  Agencies and industry were also graded in various areas.  No one got an A.  The most infuriating fact that the report pointed out was something I’ve been watching in the industry: The Center for Offshore Safety, an independent source for research and work towards better operational safety in offshore drilling.  The model was the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in the nuclear power industry.  Of course, the industry did not support the Center’s formation, but finally complied with the recommendation.  What makes the whole thing silly, though, is that it was formed under the authority of the American Petroleum Institute or API.  The API, which used to be a standards setting organization, has morphed into the largest lobbying firm for the industry.  So.  The Center for Offshore Safety is being run by an organization that opposes improving regulation of offshore safety. We have a long way to go in improving offshore safety.  Equipment, procedures, and people must all be upgraded to prevent another Macondo.  With a deadlocked Congress, dysfunctional regulators, and uncooperative industry, I fear it will take another Macondo before we actually do something. Originally published on The Huffington Post.
disasteronthehorizon Bob Cavnar is the author of Disaster on the Horizon.

Bob Cavnar is a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry with deep experience in operations, start-ups, turn-arounds, and management of both public and private companies. He was most recently President and Chief Executive Officer of Milagro Exploration, a large, privately held oil and gas exploration firm based in Houston, Texas with operations along the Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi Gulf Coasts, and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. Cavnar holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Southern Methodist University and completed the Program for Management Development at the Harvard Business School. He blogs at

Arrest of BP Engineer Exposes the Smoking Gun?

Today, the Justice Department arrested a former BP engineer on two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying hundreds of text messages that included details of flow rate calculations of their blown out Macondo well in the days immediately following the Gulf disaster on April 20, 2010, just over two years ago. The engineer, […] Read More..

The Fight for Equality from MLK to Occupy Wall Street

When it comes to tangibly honoring great Americans, Washington tends to drag its collective feet, usually decades, before making room along the Mall for a tribute. The notable exception is the Viet Nam war memorial that was completed a mere 7 years after the war ended; the impetus to build it so quickly was the […] Read More..

Preliminary Deepwater Horizon Report Rips Transocean, Marshall Islands

(April 23rd) Late yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation board issued a preliminary report of its findings related to causes of the Macondo well disaster that come under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard.  This report focused only on the vessel, its condition, and the actions of the crew that caused the explosions and loss […] Read More..

Transocean Execs Shamed into Donating Safety Bonuses, Keep the Rest

You’ve probably heard by now that Transocean announced last week that 2010 was its “best year for safety performance” based on incident rate statistics even though their offshore rig, the Deepwater Horizon, burned down and sank during the largest blowout and oilspill in the history of the US. Eleven workers were killed in the disaster, […] Read More..

More Bad News: BOEMRE Halts Floating Facility Startup Due to Equipment Failure

Brazilian producer Petrobras announced yesterday that the BOEMRE ordered a halt to the startup of its Chinook/Cascade deepwater floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) facility that had just been permitted a few weeks ago.  The halt was ordered due to the failure of a buoyancy can that supports the free standing risers that bring oil […] Read More..