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

Apr 4, 2023, 7:04 AM

FILE - A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gu...

FILE - A large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip on April 2010. A new National Academy of Science study says that 13 years after a massive BP oil 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. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

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

FILE - A black bear that had been previously tranquilized and removed from a Waterbury, Conn., neig...

Associated Press

Connecticut lawmakers vote to allow people to use deadly force as the bear population grows

Connecticut lawmakers voted Friday to take steps to protect people from the state’s growing bear population. But they stopped far short of a bear hunt and restrictions on people unintentionally feeding the hungry animals. The legislation, which cleared the House of Representatives on a 115-32 vote after being revamped by the Senate, instead explicitly allows […]

17 hours ago

FILE - Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. appears in court, Jan. 22, 2020, in New York. Three women who claim C...

Associated Press

3 women who say Cuba Gooding Jr. sexually abused them can testify at sex assault trial, judge rules

NEW YORK (AP) — Three women who claim Cuba Gooding Jr. sexually abused them — including one upset she never got her day in court when Gooding resolved criminal charges without trial or jail — can testify at a federal civil trial next week to support a woman’s claim that the actor raped her in […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

Guest lineups for the Sunday news shows

WASHINGTON (AP) — ABC’s “This Week” — Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy; Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio. __ NBC’s “Meet the Press” — Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D.; Timothy Parlatore, former attorney for Donald Trump. __ CBS’ “Face the Nation” — Manchin; Rep. Garret Graves, R-La.; Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan; Ukrainian […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

Alabama governor signs legislation naming Yellowhammer Cookie as official state cookie

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama now has an official state cookie: The Yellowhammer Cookie. Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday signed legislation naming the confection created by a Montgomery fourth-grader as the official state cookie. Students at Montgomery’s Trinity Presbyterian School came up with the idea of a state cookie. Fourth-grader Mary Claire Cook submitted the […]

17 hours ago

FILE - Caroline Ouko, mother of Irvo Otieno, holds a portrait of her son at the Dinwiddie Courthous...

Associated Press

Prosecutor in case of Virginia man killed at psychiatric hospital announces resignation

DINWIDDIE, Va. (AP) — The state prosecutor handling the case against 10 people charged in the death of a Virginia man who was pinned to the floor while being admitted to a psychiatric hospital said she is resigning to attend graduate school in Paris. Ann Cabell Baskervill told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that her resignation as […]

17 hours ago

FILE - Investigators work at the scene of a shooting where four people were killed on April 18, 202...

Associated Press

911 transcripts point to chaos, fast-evolving situation in April shootings in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A frantic 911 call to report at least one person had been fatally shot led law enforcement to discover four bodies at a home in Maine and eventually to arrest a man who fired at vehicles on a nearby highway before confessing to police that he was behind the killings. According […]

17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Here are the biggest tips to keep your AC bill low this summer

PHOENIX — In Arizona during the summer, having a working air conditioning unit is not just a pleasure, but a necessity. No one wants to walk from their sweltering car just to continue to be hot in their home. As the triple digits hit around the Valley and are here to stay, your AC bill […]


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Spinal fusion surgery has come a long way, despite misconceptions

As Dr. Justin Field of the Desert Institute for Spine Care explained, “we've come a long way over the last couple of decades.”

(Photo: OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center)...

OCD & Anxiety Treatment Center

Here’s what you need to know about OCD and where to find help

It's fair to say that most people know what obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders generally are, but there's a lot more information than meets the eye about a mental health diagnosis that affects about one in every 100 adults in the United States.

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