By Don Briggs
Yesterday, President Obama’s National Oil Spill Commission released its final report concerning the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. The release of this report comes after days of commentary and speculation by media, industry and other interested parties concerning the Oil Spill Commission’s final conclusions. The findings of the report lay out a number of comments and recommendations that lawmakers, industry, and the public must seriously vet and review over the next few months.
An Unfair and Unbalanced Conclusion
The Commission’s central thesis is stated clearly in the report: “The root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur. The missteps were rooted in systemic failures by industry management (extending beyond BP to contractors that serve many in the industry), and also by failures of government to provide effective regulatory oversight of offshore drilling.”
Industry does not take the position that no reform is needed in light of the tragic oil spill, however, to conclude and demonize an entire industry for the missteps and accident of a few companies is unfair and unwarranted.
To understand the Oil Spill Commission’s findings we must first look at who played a role in the conclusions and recommendations put forth in the final report. The Oil Spill Commission was tasked with understanding the technical intricacies of a failed offshore well. As a side note, the Commission did not contain a single member with experience in the offshore oil & gas industry. In fact, not one member of the commission had any general oil & gas industry experience whatsoever. In my opinion, a panel consisting of green activists, lawyers and professors do not provide a balance and expertise to create sound and fair conclusions regarding highly technical offshore oil & gas engineering issues and concepts.
A Proven Safety Culture and Record
History will show that industry has gone above and beyond taking the proper measures for safety preparedness and practices in its operations in the Outer Continental Shelf. First and foremost, companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico have kept safety in mind for the environment and for their employees for decades. Since 1947, over 50,000 successful wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico with no serious environmental or safety occurrence. Of those wells, nearly 14,000 have been drilled in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico without an incident of this magnitude. The success rate of the offshore industry is not attributable to luck or sound federal regulation. The over 60-year successful track record of the offshore industry is due in part to a safety-first culture. With these facts in mind, it is discouraging that the Oil Spill Commission has attempted to deflect blame for the well blowout towards an entire industry.
In my opinion, it is neglect of common sense and logic for the President’s commissioned panel to conclude that the accident of a few reflect the actions of many.
A Proactive Industry Focused on Safety
In light of the oil spill, offshore oil & gas companies came together as a unified industry to address safety concerns and measures that could be employed to avoid any situation like that of the Macondo blowout. A Joint Industry Task Force was developed under the guidance of Gary Luquette of Chevron to assess and address these issues and formulate potential preventative measures companies could employ following the Horizon accident.
The institution of proper safety procedures is a serious issue that industry does not take lightly. Beyond the obvious ethical and common sense approach that safety is of the utmost importance, a lack of precaution and proper safety procedures is just bad for business. Instead of overburdening regulations and recommendations from an unbalanced Commission, should we not trust an industry that has proven a sound safety record for over 60 years? As we speak, an industry safety program has already moved toward adoption of new safety measures on a magnitude of fronts to improve general safety awareness. Industry practices in regards to safety have always been ahead of the curve to legislative measures. In closing, a panel of bureaucrats in Washington knows little about the complexities of offshore drilling. Companies who operate in the Gulf of Mexico do so in real-time. Let’s ensure that their voices are heard in this process.