Lessons to be Learnt

So, the Macondo well has finally stopped leaking and should be permanently sealed by the end of September, nearly five months since it first suffered a major blow-out. This has been confirmed as the world’s worst ever oil spill, with nearly five million barrels of oil having poured into waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of birds and sea life have been killed or badly injured and the economy of the adjacent coast, very dependent on the Gulf, has taken a serious knocking.
This article appeared in Vol. 7, No. 4 - 2010


Work in August 2010 during attempts to staunch to flow of oil from the damaged well. Image: BP p.l.c. What have we, the hydrocarbon industry, learnt from this tragic and devastating event? It seems very easy to point fingers in many directions – did BP alter the design of the blowout preventer or Transocean turn off the alarms? Without a doubt, serious errors were made leading up to this disaster, and a fair few made afterwards. As with all such catastrophes, it was not one but a series of mistakes - in technology, administration, decision making and regulation – which ultimately built up to a calamity in which, it must not be forgotten, eleven men lost their lives.

BP’s recently released report concluded that as a result of decisions made by “multiple companies and work teams” the disaster arose from “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces.” Based on these findings, 25 recommendations have been put forward to prevent such a disaster ever happening again. Will they all be implemented?

The moratorium on deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will have major and ongoing repercussions on the oil industry, the implications of which will probably not be fully seen until next year, when its effect on the oil price and supply will be felt.

As an industry, we were prepared to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf, seemingly knowing that we had no tested systems in place for coping when, rather than if, such an accident occurred. And the US authorities appeared to be happy to license these operations in the same knowledge.
Have we really learnt the lessons we need to learn?


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