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  1. Welaptega Marine
19 April 2011

One Year After Macondo: Has the Culture of Safety Emerged in the Offshore Industry?

One year ago today, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the worst environmental disaster in US history.

It took lives – 11 workers died.

4.9 million barrels of oil leaked from the BP Macondo well, causing extensive damage to marine, air and land-based wildlife, and the fishing and tourism industries. It was 86 days before the spill was stopped.

Welaptega Marine helped with the solution. We built a high-resolution 3D model to confirm the dimensions of the damaged wellhead. A cap was successfully installed on July 15, 2010.

The spill propelled the issue of subsea integrity to the top of the political agenda in the US, and suddenly words like subsea safety, blowout preventers and underwater integrity were on the tongues of everyone, including the President of America.

In January 2011 the presidential panel investigating the spill found that it was the result of preventable corporate and regulatory failures. Another such accident would be inevitable, unless changes were made, it warned.

Changes have happened in the industry. There is a new regulatory agency to replace the old Minerals Management Service. There are new regulations on drilling and safety in offshore operations. BP has a new CEO and integrity is a new buzzword.

But has the fabled “new culture of safety emerged” in the industry?

Time will tell.

There is always going to be risk in offshore drilling and production operations. Accidents will happen.

The capability does exist to significantly reduce the risk of environmental disaster and loss of human life in offshore operations.

But these capabilities must be taken seriously by the industry. The new culture safety will require investments in safety technologies and protocols. It will require education, stricter industry self-regulation and yes, stiffer policing by regulators.

Safety must be part of the business model of offshore operations. If not we will see a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

By Gail Lethbridge.

Gail Lethbridge is a founder and director of Welaptega Marine which provides subsea safety technologies and data to the offshore oil and gas industry.

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