BP says accident, spill will change deepwater drilling

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, June 22 -- The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig accident and resulting oil spill must change the way industry works, according to Steve Westwell, BP PLC’s chief of staff. Speaking before the World National Oil Companies Congress in London, Westwell added that deepwater production remains critical to fulfilling global energy demand.

“Companies have been drilling wells in the deepwater gulf for 20 years and until now they’ve been able to claim a strong safety record,” Westwell said. “It’s fair to say the whole industry regarded the risk of such an accident occurring as extremely low probability. Clearly all future risk assessments must plan for such low-probability, but very high-impact events.”

BP’s preliminary findings “indicate that this was a complex accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of failures in human judgment, processes, systems, and equipment,” he said. The causes of the accident still are being investigated by many agencies and lawmakers.

“It is too early to draw final conclusions, but there is no doubt that this terrible accident will have a profound impact not only on how we run BP, but also on the rest of the energy industry,” Westwell said.

The Deepwater Horizon accident raised questions about the risks faced at the industry’s frontiers, specifically deep water, he said.

“It’s imperative to invest in creating a sustainable deepwater business. We must change the way we operate, and no doubt the regulatory framework will radically change too,” Westwell said.

“By its very nature, operating at the frontier carries risks, and this incident has been a major setback at a key frontier,” he said. He listed the following “imperatives” he believes industry needs to address:

• Better safety technology. “The blowout preventer is not the failsafe device it was thought to be.”

• Development of more-effective deepwater subsea intervention capability. “We need better equipment and capabilities to deal with a blowout at this depth. The Exxon Valdez disaster 20 years ago prompted the industry to come together to create a significantly enhanced surface response capability. We need the same approach in the subsea, and BP intends to play a key role in making it happen.”

• Revisit BP’s business model, “to ensure that companies work with contractors in ways that mean risks are fully understood and managed.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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