As BP begins to secure the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil and gas industry is preparing to enter a new era of regulation, likely giving birth to an oil-spill-response industry and the eventual re-engineering of rigs, platforms and wells.

Recent reports advocate stricter regulations and better response plans.
Photo: Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Recent reports advocate stricter regulations and better response plans.

Reports released this month by a joint task force and BP all point to the need for a fresh look at the way the industry operates in the Gulf of Mexico and responds to oil spills. In addition, a Sept. 8 report from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEM, recommends more stringent regulations, and President Obama on Sept. 13 asked for an additional $100 million to increase BOEM’s muscle.

These recent reports will be fed into final reports due next year from the presidential commission on the oil spill, along with results of a marine board investigation conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and BOEM. The marine board will examine the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, which on Sept. 4 was pulled from the ocean floor and is now at NASA’s Michoud facility near New Orleans.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association—which participated in the joint industry task force—says, “[The report] shines a light on the path forward, but it is not the end of the journey.” Released on Sept. 7, the report recommends the industry own or provide the technology and capability to respond to an oil spill. Moreover, it recommends modifications to blowout preventers and the equipment that connects blowout preventers (BOPs) to rigs.

New protocols also will likely come from BP’s internal report, released on Sept. 8. It blames the April 20 explosion on “a complex and interlinked series of mechanical failures, human judgments, engineering design, operational implementation and team interfaces,” adding that “multiple companies, work teams and circumstances were involved over time.” BP’s report pinpoints failures on barriers at the bottom of the well, with the BOP and with the rig’s alarms and points to general inattention onboard the rig.

Ed Seglias, an attorney and vice president of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman, a firm that specializes in construction, says change won’t occur quickly. “There’s no doubt that there will be improvements,” he says, “but a lot of this is going to [turn] on economics. If you build a great mousetrap and it doesn’t get used, it’s going to become obsolete.” He expects that engineering and testing of new equipment will take time; he doesn’t expect to see a newly designed rig to be operational for at least three years.

On Sept. 13, BP resumed relief-well drilling; it is about 50 ft from the point at which it plans to “kill” the well with slurry concrete. The process could be completed by the end of September.