Policy: Environment & Energy

No, the offshore oil industry is not spiraling toward another BP oil spill

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Opinion,Op-Eds,BP,Energy and Environment,Oil,Gulf Oil Spill

Not surprisingly, there is a whole other side to the condemnation recently expressed in the New York Times by former Minerals Management Service Director Liz Birnbaum and Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana regarding the safety of the offshore oil and natural gas industry since the Macondo incident of 2010.

I could not sit back and see the injustice to the hundreds of former MMS employees (now a part of the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) by being painted with a broad brush of inaction.

That same brush unfairly disregards the yeoman efforts of the thousands of people employed by the oil and natural gas industry who work diligently every day, 365 days a year, to improve safety from the corporate board room to the worker on the drilling or production platform.

The Macondo event should have never occurred, which is why it is considered an accident, and there is never an excuse for loss of life or injury, however the positive from this tragedy is the re-invigorated emphasis on safety and enhanced clean-up capabilities developed following the spill.

An accident like Macondo is going to generate many commissions, presidential and otherwise, with myriad recommendations. Many of the hundreds of various recommendations have been adopted, most as recommended and some with modifications.

And, as federal regulators and industry experts sort through the remaining recommendations, some may no longer be applicable and others rendered moot due to implementation of new technology and standards.

The mere allegation that not all the recommendations have been adopted does not mean that the industry is not safer and more environmentally conscious today or spiraling down a path towards another Macondo.

There are new regulations requiring the use of safety and environmental management systems, new production systems requirements and the development of a safety culture.

The mass of new regulations far outweigh the recommendations of all the different commissions. The challenge is to assure that the massive regulatory reform increases safety and not just paper.

Concerning the Blow Out Preventer rule — since the BOP was apparently a Macondo culprit — the engineering, design and efficacy of BOPs have been thoroughly examined by regulators and industry experts from every angle.

Industry made some immediate changes to the use of BOPs and, while there is angst about the length of time it is taking to propose the rule, this is a rule that must be done right. This rule must reflect the newest in technology and capability.

If the federal regulators are working with industry and other interested parties, including manufacturers and engineering experts, to propose the best rule possible, it is worth the wait.

The crux of the recent Oceana-inspired opinion editorial in the Times is that the U.S. should not open up new areas to oil and natural gas exploration. I disagree. Oil and natural gas are, and will continue to be, mainstays in our energy portfolio.

Oil and natural gas provide a reasonably priced, abundant source of energy to power our homes and businesses, and fuel our vehicles and economy.

They are part of an energy base, including renewable and non-traditional fuels, that can help wean this generation off foreign imports of oil.

They support our manufacturing renaissance, which means more jobs and a better standard of living here in the United States.

Finally, their opinion editorial tees up a general condemnation of seismic operations. This is simply an attempt to stop production before it starts.

But the truth is that seismic testing has been done safely under the supervision of regulators for decades.

What’s more, seismic lays the groundwork to reduce the environmental impacts of drilling by taking an underground picture of oil and gas resources, helping reduce the number of dry wells.

Oceana has put a bull’s-eye on seismic in order to stop offshore oil and gas production by stopping seismic. Once again, science indicates that seismic can, and is, done safely and without deadly harm to marine mammals and fish.

That being said, the oil and natural gas industry has the obligation to develop those resources safely. You can never eliminate all risk, but accidents are preventable.

Science is the heart of the oil and gas industry and science will help us advance safety technology to prevent a future Macondo.

At this important time in our nation’s energy development, it is not the time to fight among ourselves, but to work together to see that all energy resources are developed safely and soundly.

Randall Luthi is president of the National Ocean Industries Association and a former director of the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
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