Sunday, May 30, 2010

Seafloor Gushers: Never Again

A local Houston oil and gas executive had a piece in the Houston Chronicle last week on where to go forward now that we have finally produced an ecological nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s here. People need to read it.

At the bottom he has a few suggestions that are focused and achievable; things that we must do before re-embarking on deepwater oil and gas exploration, a program that has been completely shut down, even to the extent of shutting down wells that are currently drilling in the deepwater.

Pasted here below are his suggestions:

  • Development of a sophisticated, high-volume, subsea oil-collection system that is available 24/7 to the industry for more efficient cleanup of spills in the event they do occur.
  • Strict regulation of the types and use of oil dispersants to mitigate damage to the environment and life.
  • Complete the split of the Minerals Management Service into the three agencies, making safety and environmental regulation totally separate from the revenue and leasing functions.
  • Conform safety, equipment, procedures and inspections for all vessels working in U.S. waters, whether they are foreign or U.S. flagged. Strengthen tax regulation to assure all vessels are on equal footing.
  • Establish a subsea technology function within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the MMS to advance the research, standardization and regulation of all subsea operations in U.S. waters, with the goal of making these functions safer and more reliable.

I have an amendment and another suggestion.

Amendment. I think it’s a great idea that the feds should build a branch within its environmental arm that is a source of expertise in subsea drilling operations. Really, this is the answer to reliance on the expertise and equipment of the self-same oil company whose corner-cutting ways produced this disaster in the first place. But I really think that the taxpayers ought not be saddled with the bill. Years ago, the major oil companies shed themselves of their R&D branches because they were money sinks. I really think that any company that leases offshore acreage from the feds need to contribute to the continuing support of an MMS or NOAA research lab – especially if they benefit from the research.

And finally, in looking at the list of suggestions you come away with the impression that another spill like this is inevitable. That you, as the masthead of this blog suggests, must plan for the worst.

I don’t think we have that option in this case.

This “spill” is going to be bad for a long, long time. We can’t afford any more. I vote that we go “Socialist Canadian” on offshore oil exploration.

The Canadians have been looking at what is the worst case scenario for a blowout in the Beaufort Sea. In the worst case a well blows out and cannot be killed from above (like the one in the Gulf). But the Beaufort Sea is ice-free only 2 to 3 months out of the year so if there is an unstoppable blowout there is not enough time to drill a relief well to kill it from below. So if a company wants to drill a well in the Beaufort Sea, Canada makes them drill the relief well at the same time.

Sort of gives new meaning to the phrase “Drill, baby, drill.”

Ironically, BP was just up there pleading before their environmental oversight board to relax that bothersome little requirement because it was just too darned expensive.

No, if there is even the slightest chance of having another one of these environmental calamities it is time for the feds to require, in the deepwater, the drilling of a relief well simultaneous to the drilling of the exploration well. It is by everyone’s admission, the only sure way to kill a well.

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