Department of the Interior delivers oil and gas safety report to President Obama

Published:  04 June, 2010

At the end of April, just ten days after explosion and fire erupted on Deepwater Horizon, President Obama directed the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a thorough review of the event and to report, within 30 days, on what additional precautions and technologies, if any, might be required to improve the safety of oil and gas exploration and production operations on the outer continental shelf. This report has now been published and is likely to have significant repercussions for the long-term future of deepsea oil exploration.  

In the short-term, however, it will have immediate impact on the extensive drilling operations already taking place in the Gulf of Mexico.  The report recommends an immediate halt to drilling operations on the 33 permitted wells which are being drilled using floating rigs in the Gulf of Mexico – this does not include the relief wells being drilled by BP.  Drilling is to stop as soon as safely practicable for a six-month period.

There is also to be a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled using floating rigs. This is to allow for the implementation of a number of recommendations outlined in the report and also give time to assess the causes of the what has become known as the ‘BP Oil Spill’ once they have been established.

The report, which has been peer reviewed by a team of seven experts recommended by the national Academy of Engineering, recommends a number of specific measures in three key areas.  These address in particular the need to ensure sufficient redundancy in the blowout preventers (BOPs), how to the integrity of the well and enhance well control, and the need to facilitate a culture of safety through operational and personnel management.

BOPs and related safety equipment

The report recommends mandatory inspection of each BOP to be used on flating drilling operations to ensure that the BOP:

  • meets manufacturer design specifications, taking into account any modifications that have been made;
  • is compatible with the specific drilling equipment on the rig it is to be used on, including that the shear ram ic compatible with the drill pipe to be used;
  • has not been compromised or damaged from previous service;
  • is designed to operate at the planned operating depth.

Certification of these requirements would be made publicly available.

In addition there is a requirement for new safety features on BOPs and related back up and safety equipment including:

  • a requirement that BOPs have two sets of blind shear rams spaced at least four feet apart to prevent BOP failure if a drill pipe or drill tool is across one set of rams during an emergency;
  • requirements for emergency back-up control systems;
  • requirements for remote operating vehicle capabilities.

The Department is to develop new surface and subsea testing requirements to verify reliability of these capabilities.

There is also to be an overhaul of the testing, inspection and reporting requirements for BOP and related backup and safety equipment to ensure proper functioning including new means of improving transparency and providing public access to the results of inspections and routine reporting.

Well control systems

There are a number of key recommendations which include the development of enhanced deepwater well-control procedures and the verification of a set of new safeguards that must be in place prior to displacement of kill-weight drilling fluid from the well bore.  The report also recommends that new design, installation, testing operations and training requirements should be established relating to casing, cement or other elements that comprise an exploratory well.  Plus there is a recommendation that there should be a comprehensive study of methods for more rapid and effective response to deepwater blowouts. 

Systems-based approach to safety

In addition to enhanced requirements to improve organisational and safety management for companies operating offshore drilling rigs and new rules requiring offshore operators to have in place a comprehensive, system-based approach to safety and environmental management, the report recommends immediate, enhanced enforcement of current regulations.  It says that this should be through verification, within 30 days, of compliance with the April 30,2010 National Safety Alert.

The report makes it clear that the purpose of the review was to recommend immediate measure to improve safety of offshore drilling activities and that it was undertaken without the benefit of knowing what exactly happened on Deepwater Horizon.  When the investigation into the causes of the BP Oil Spill is complete, further recommendations may well be forthcoming. 

File: Full report (766k)
  • Operation Florian

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