The Gulf of Mexico Catastrophe Needs a Global Solution
The Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was a tragic event the offshore industry is still trying to face up to. BP may have issued their investigation findings and the post mortem is still in progress but whatever the further results this event will have a long and lasting impact on the offshore oil and gas industry. The public reputation of the oil and gas industry is again severely damaged and needs to be addressed with a global solution involving all key stakeholders.
The Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico was a well catastrophe of immense magnitude that resulted in, let's not forget, tragic loss of life. Whether the leak of oil amounted to 4.9 million barrels, making it the largest accidental release of oil into the oceans or half this amount, which would put it behind the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill is of little importance. What is important is to understand and learn from the events that led to this oil spill and the long term impact it will have on the industry as well as ensuring that everything possible is done to prevent such a catastrophe ever happening again.
The events of 6th July 1988 when 167 men died in the Piper Alpha disaster resulted in a significant change to the regulatory environment and safety regime operating in the North Sea. The sweeping changes that were made have been long lasting, strong and fit for purpose. However it is worth pointing out that the changes made then in the North Sea were not transported to other oil and gas producing regions. 22 years on we live in a global fast responding age. Following the Macondo blowout governments around the world have been reviewing policies for oil and gas operations, long before the results of the investigation were released. But we have also seen governments responding in different ways to this catastrophe. The UK moved swiftly to review its regulatory system and put in place new measures to cope with oil spills led by the pan-industry Oil Spill Response Advisory Group. Italy has placed a ban on drilling in its waters within 5 nautical miles of the coast and within 12 nautical miles around the perimeter of protected marine parks. Others have chosen to play more of a waiting game.
A catastrophe of this magnitude severely damages the public reputation of the oil and gas industry which can also influence the measures certain governments may chose to take in response. However governments change out and the measures adopted by one regime can be reversed by the next. The one place where continuity does exist is the oil and gas industry itself and within the various associations that operate to ensure that best practices are adopted by all its members. In response to the Macondo blowout an alliance of industry taskforces has been established charged with identifying ways to improve overall drilling safety with particular focus on offshore operating procedures, offshore equipment, subsea well control and spill response. Although set up to steer the establishment of new US government regulations in the wake of the Macondo catastrophe these taskforces are represented by the associations whose members operate globally in the oil and gas industry. Those members are key stakeholders in the oil and gas business representing operators, drilling contractors and specialist service providers who together need to drive for a global solution and not just one that is applied to the Gulf of Mexico. The basis of that solution needs to be a long lasting, strong and fit for purpose safety regime which is implemented globally. To ensure a lasting legacy this regime must set a minimum standard for the oil and gas industry and operate with no borders so that it can easily be transported to all oil and gas producing regions.
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