The US Oil and Gas Industry: A Safety Culture Enigma

On 20 April 2010, an explosion on the mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) Deepwater Horizon stationed over the deep water Macondo Prospect oil field in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 crewmen and resulted in the sinking of the drilling unit. This event ushered in an environmental disaster that is now regarded as the second largest in US history after the 1930s Dust Bowl tragedy, with significant economic consequences that are still impacting BP and the wider oil and gas industry as more stringent regulations come into force. The Deepwater Horizon report to the President of the US on the Gulf oil disaster highlighted the tragic loss of 11 members of crew and made the following observation on the ecological and financial impact of the disaster:

"The costs from this one industrial accident are not yet fully counted, but it is already clear that the impacts on the region's natural systems and people were enormous, and that economic losses total tens of billions of dollars."

Deepwater Horizon highlighted many leadership challenges and failures within the oil industry, specifically the understanding of risk and the associated safety culture required to mitigate that risk. The challenges facing the oil industry's strategic leadership are considerable, especially as the search for oil drives them to explore in ever-more-demanding locations. Overcoming the challenges will be key to ensure that the raft of recent industry-led but government-endorsed legislation is observed and that lessons identified from such incidents can be addressed across the full spectrum of the oil and gas industry.

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