Oil drilling in Gulf safer, but concerns linger, report says

Apr 4, 2023, 7:04 AM

Thirteen years after the massive Deepwater Horizons spill fouled the Gulf of Mexico, regulators and industry have reduced some risks in deep water exploration in the gulf but some troublesome safety issues persist, a new study by the National Academy of Sciences said.

The creation of a specific federal agency for offshore oil drilling safety, an industrywide safety center and new technology have all helped reduce risks, Tuesday’s report said. But federal inspectors remain relatively powerless over contractors on rigs, which are 80% of the workers.

The report also worried about the lack of an industrywide safety culture that integrates accident prevention into everyday work.

“There are a lot of things that are happening that are really good, but the industry is not at a place” where it should be, said panel chairman Richard Sears. He was a longtime Shell executive who was the chief technical adviser to the federal panel that initially investigated the 2010 explosion on the BP rig that killed 11 people and caused America’s biggest oil spill — more than 130 million gallons.

A culture that gave lip service to safety but didn’t really integrate it into the way it does business was part of the problem with the accident, Sears and others said. Some companies are treating safety the proper way — including giving flash bonuses to workers who stopped drilling because of potential dangers — but others “that don’t seem to get it,” he said.

“They have not figured out how to naturally embrace safety in particular… in who they are and what they do” but instead treat it like a box to check off, Sears said.

That’s far different from the more uniform industrywide safety culture seen in commercial airlines and nuclear power plants, he said.

There’s a “long list” of specifics on safety culture process that “other high-risk industries” like aviation, have done but the drillers have not, said Steve Murawski, a University of South Florida marine ecologist who was a top NOAA scientist during the spill.

Federal safety inspectors lost a court case giving them power to directly regulate contractors so when they find a problem on an offshore rig they can ding the operator but not the contractor who is actually creating the problem, Sears said. It’s then up to the operator to crack down on the contractor, and it becomes complicated and not as effective, he said.

The report said that was one of the problems on the Deepwater Horizons rig.

Murawski, who wasn’t part of the study team, said the report highlights many of the recommendations that still haven’t been put into effect 13 years after that disaster, especially changes to a key oil spill law. He also said the report shows the need for greater transparency into industry actions.

Another outside scientist involved in the spill, Christopher Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said he was impressed by “the amount of positive change since 2010” but then that was offset by the safety culture issue.

“The oil and natural gas industry and the federal government have together taken great strides to enhance the safety of offshore drilling operations,” American Petroleum Institute Vice President Holly Hopkins said.

National Academy President Marcia McNutt, who was a top Obama administration official dealing with the spill in 2010, said her concern is that officials are preparing for the last disaster, not the next one.

Still, McNutt said, the public should find the report “at least partially reassuring that this isn’t high school or elementary school shootings in terms of sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the problem.”

___ Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

United States News

Associated Press

Wisconsin man pleads not guilty to neglect in disappearance of boy

MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) — A man who was caring for a 3-year-old Wisconsin boy when he vanished in late Februar y pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a charge of chronic child neglect. Jesse Vang, 39, entered the plea during his arraignment in a Manitowoc County court. A judge on April 4 ordered Vang to […]

31 minutes ago

Associated Press

Civil rights attorney demands footage in fatal police chase, but city lawyer says none exists

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Civil rights attorney Ben Crump demanded Tuesday that police in a small town in Mississippi release camera footage of a chase that ended in the death of a Black teenager, but the city attorney said the police department does not use cameras. “I have been advised by the Chief that the […]

40 minutes ago

Associated Press

Parts of central US hit by severe storms, while tornadoes strike in Kansas and Iowa

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Strong storms caused damage in parts of the middle U.S. Tuesday and spawned tornadoes in Kansas and Iowa, including one that left two people hurt. An EF-1 tornado touched down shortly after 6 a.m. near the northeastern Kansas town of Richland, the National Weather Service said. The twister reached speeds of […]

45 minutes ago

Associated Press

Man gets 37-year sentence for kidnapping FBI employee in South Dakota

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — One of three people convicted of carjacking and kidnapping an FBI employee in South Dakota has been sentenced to 37 years in prison. Juan Alvarez-Sorto, 25, was sentenced Friday in federal court, the Rapid City Journal reported. Alvarez-Sorto and Deyvin Morales, 29, were found guilty in January. Alvarez-Sorto also was […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan attorney general to announce charges in investigation of former top lawmaker

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors plan to announce charges Tuesday in an investigation of the former leader of the Michigan House, the attorney general’s office said. Attorney General Dana Nessel is scheduled to speak to reporters in the state capital at 2 p.m. EDT. An email from Nessel’s office didn’t indicate who is being charged. […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Whitey Herzog, Hall of Fame manager who led St. Louis Cardinals to 3 pennants, dies at 92

NEW YORK (AP) — Whitey Herzog, the gruff and ingenious Hall of Fame manager who guided the St. Louis Cardinals to three pennants and a World Series title in the 1980s and perfected an intricate, nail-biting strategy known as “Whiteyball,” has died. He was 92. Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said Tuesday the team had been […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Oil drilling in Gulf safer, but concerns linger, report says