After Latest Explosion, the Offshore Drilling Industry Defends Itself

The investigation into yesterday’s platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico is just starting, but there have already been more calls for stricter regulations on production and drilling there. But as Laurie Johnson reports — at least two veterans of the industry say that would be an overreaction.


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Within hours of Thursday’s fire, groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club were calling for more government regulation, not less. But Mike Killalea with International Association of Drilling Contractors here in Houston says more government oversight because of the two recent accidents is unnecessary.

“We’ve seen a lot of accidents, for instance, in other industries that have been well-publicized and we’ve not seen the type of reaction that has occurred in those industries as has occurred in the case of the drilling tragedy. Similarly, we’ve seen this happen and this should not a be a cause for further clampdowns on the offshore oil and gas industry.”   

There is a current moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf, which was put in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Killalea says that ban has in effect slowed shallow-water drilling and production as well.

“Even though the government has not imposed the moratorium on those shallow water units, there is in fact a de facto moratorium. There have only been, as of August 31st, four permits since April issued to allow new drilling in shallow waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Just four permits. Normally there would be something like 14 issued per week.”  

He says despite the two high-profile accidents in the Gulf, the industry isn’t as dangerous and people think it is.

“The fact is that this is an extremely safe industry. People may raise eyebrows at that, but there are statistics that bear that out. I was looking at statistics today from the U.S. government indicating that there are more injuries in daycare centers than in the oil and gas industry, surprising as that might sound.” 

Opponents of offshore drilling says it’s not so much about how safe it is, but more about what accidents do to the environment. Jim Wilkinson spent more than three decades running drilling rigs in the Gulf . He says accidents are almost always caused by humans making avoidable mistakes. 

“When there’s an investigation of the incident, whether it’s an aircraft or whether it’s a drilling rig, I believe that you can find the reasons and you can find that more than 95-percent of the time it’s human error by people who should have known how to keep that from happening.”    

Wilkinson says when commercial jets crash on occasion, the government doesn’t shut down the airline industry and shouldn’t when accidents happen in the oil and gas industry either.

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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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