As the second anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore platform accident approaches on April 20, the sky rocketing gasoline prices at the pumps have fueled calls of “drill, baby, drill” to increase domestic oil production. The prospect of extensive deepwater oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic waters, and elsewhere is now stronger than ever.Exploiting deepwater offshore oil and gas fields is the future of the fossil fuel industry around the world. According to a recent statement by the head of the International Energy Agency of the OECD, about 30 percent of the world's oil production presently comes from offshore projects and it will increase to about 50 percent in 2015.In addition to the growing deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (by the United States, Mexico and Cuba) and possibly the Atlantic Ocean (from Delaware Bay to Cape Canaveral, Fla.), it is expected to grow substantially in the Mediterranean, Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, North Slope of Alaska, as well as off the coasts of China, India, Brazil and Angola. For instance, seven of the 10 largest hydrocarbon fields discovered in the past decade in the world are in deepwater off the coast of Brazil.The recent major gas leak on the Elgin offshore platform in the North Sea, which forced ships and aircrafts to stay miles away from the site and caused an international uproar, heightened the attention to offshore drilling safety, especially for wells on high-pressure, high-temperature and other types of more complex fields.This event echoed the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig accident, which killed 11 workers and spilled millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Despite the recent announcement that BP and most of its plaintiffs have agreed to settle the lawsuits concerning the explosion and fire, its lessons haven't still been adequately learned and disseminated. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of opportunities to do a much better job, when it comes to offshore drilling safety; as world's people and ecosystems should not have to experience another accident and oil spill anywhere.A published report by a 15-member interdisciplinary experts Committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council (NAE/NRC), “Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety” (Dec 2011), was able to identify and assess the principal direct and root causes of this accident and developed a series of recommendations that would provide suitable and cost-effective corrective actions, materially reducing the likelihood of a similar event in the future.It recommended to reduce the risk of another accident as catastrophic as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, companies involved in offshore drilling should take a “system safety” approach to anticipating and managing possible dangers at every level of operation — from ensuring the integrity of wells to designing blowout preventers that function “under all foreseeable conditions,” including the cold Arctic waters.The committee's five major categories of recommendations that attempt to address all the primary components or the life cycle of deepwater drilling are: (1) Well Design and Construction, (2) Blowout Preventer System, (3) Mobile Offshore Drilling Units, (4) Industry Management of Offshore Drilling, to (5) Regulatory oversight.Thus, it is expected that the committee's universally applicable recommendations should be addressed in their entirety by the companies and countries who would like to engage in safe and environmentally conscious deepwater drilling.As the committee's report concluded, the need to maintain domestic sources of oil is great, but so is the need to protect the lives of those who work in this industry, and to protect the Gulf of Mexico and other waters and the many other industries that depend on it. Additionally, an enhanced regulatory approach should ensure strong industry safety culture with mandatory regulatory oversight at critical points during drilling operations.Safety culture is typically defined as the assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organizations and individuals, which establishes that as an overriding priority, safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance. Creating and nurturing a positive safety culture basically means to instill thinking and attitudes in organizations and individual employees that ensure safety issues are treated as high priorities. An organization fostering a safety culture would encourage employees to cultivate a questioning attitude and a rigorous and prudent approach to all aspects of their job, and would set up necessary open communications between line workers and mid- and upper management. These safety culture characteristics are equally applicable both to the operating companies as well as to their cognizant/designated governmental regulatory safety agency.This global industry should strive for higher universal safety standards and closer cooperation among its members and regulators. Companies and countries engaging in deepwater drilling should proactively and voluntarily pledge to address the institutionalization of safety culture, not only at rig level but also at higher levels of company and regulatory agency in their countries. If not for the sake of the public, at least for the sake of their own survival and bottom line.Influential industry trade associations such as the American Petroleum Institute and the International Association of Drilling Contractors should join forces and forge alliances with their counterparts in other countries and develop codes of best practices and “enforce” or ensure their voluntary implementations.Stakeholder countries should start devising a balance between national sovereignty over their territorial waters and international responsibility toward their neighbors and region, when it comes to the safety of their deepwater drilling rigs.This can start at the regional level. For starts, the Gulf of Mexico littoral countries — the United States, Mexico and Cuba — should be entitled and enabled to learn about and ascertain the adequacy of the specific safety considerations and practices of all operating platforms. As in the context of the Gulf of Mexico, at the end of the day, all those countries will be affected by water contamination from an accidental spill, anywhere on the coasts of this small pond.The vital importance of this project for many countries around the world cannot be emphasized further. This initiative will “force” these neighboring countries to engage in a mutually beneficial practice of engineering diplomacy. One of the byproducts and unintended (positive) consequences of these safety-centric confidence building collaborative efforts could be eventual better relations, for instance between the United States and Cuba.As the American philosopher William James once said, “Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.” We should learn from the Macondo Well blowout, and we shouldn't give up, as we can do better than what happened on the Deepwater Horizon rig.More important, we, along with companies and countries engaging in deepwater drilling owe taking these bold safety improvement initiatives to the memory of the 11 people who lost their lives onboard the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, 2010.
Tara Cutlip, 21 and pregnant with her second child, was shot and killed Saturday in her Bahama Drive home. Loved ones gather in front of Tara's home to remember her and speak out against domestic violence.