The Deepwater Horizon Rig Explosion a Year Later

The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion — and the resulting oil spill — is spawning significant changes in the drilling industry. New containment technology is being developed, and government regulators are revamping the whole process. Ed Mayberry looks at how things stand for offshore drilling a year after the BP explosion.


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A joint U.S. Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement panel will soon release preliminary findings on the disaster’s causes. A trial next year will assign percentages of fault to BP and other companies. Amy Myers Jaffe is an energy fellow at the Baker Institute.

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“I had always really just sort of believed that the industry had very good systems for handling a spill. And so really, for me, personally, it was really surprising, and I had just been on NPR radio a few days before explaining how safe deepwater drilling was!”

Since the spill, oil industry engineers have been developing a containment system.

“The industry had focused almost 100 percent on prevention and not on response.” 

But with images of millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico in the news and streaming on the internet, top engineers worked on the technology of response. A deepwater drilling moratorium was lifted late last year, although no permits were approved until February 28th.

Operators must follow strict new rules and show they have the ability to contain a deepwater blowout. Jaffe says a procedure to eliminate bad actors must be developed.

“And there’s no mechanism, if somebody doesn’t have the right safety practices, to take those leases back. It’s not about paying a fine, because if you’re doing billions of dollars and you’re gonna, you know, not stop your operations for a minute and you could just pay the fine, well , you know, maybe the fine would be more cost-effective.”

Former Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister now heads Citizens for Affordable Energy. He speaks to us from London.

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“The public is very much driven by today’s experiences and today’s information–what are the gasoline prices that we’re paying today, and how could we alleviate those high gasoline prices if we could produce more domestic resources.”

But Hofmeister says the oil industry still needs to do a better job of explaining itself.

“And now the industry is experiencing high gasoline prices without really explaining why those gasoline prices are occurring. However, the American people have a lot of basic knowledge of supply and demand, and realize that if the supply of crude oil is insufficient to meet the needs, the price of gasoline’s gonna go up.”

More than 300 lawsuits filed against BP and other companies have been consolidated in federal court in New Orleans.

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