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What's Changed About Deepwater Drilling Since Macondo? Not a Lot.

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Tonight at 9:50 p.m. central time marks the anniversary of the exact time that BP's deepwater well named Macondo blew out, killing 11 workers, destroying Transocean's Deepwater Horizon, and putting five million barrels of oil into the water 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.  Most of the world has moved on since then, thinking that everything in the Gulf is okey-dokey, and anxious to hear the latest news on Janet Jackson and Dancing with the Stars.  In the meantime, the industry is back to drilling the deepwater, oil continues to come ashore and deformed seafood has begun to occur in alarming numbers.  And what is our Congress doing about offshore safety?  Going backwards by passing legislation in the House that actually reduces environmental review of new offshore leases.

This blog spent most of 2010 talking about the blowout and subsequent spill, trying to make sense out of the nonsense coming out of BP and much of the media.  Hopefully we helped change the conversation by explaining the mechanics and politics about what was going on.  BP was successful, with the help of the U.S. government, in getting the 24/7 news coverage shut down in July of 2010 when they undertook a dangerous shut-in procedure that exceeded the design capacity of several wellhead components.  Since then, the President's Oil Spill Commission did a study of the accident, issuing their report, and the Joint Investigation between the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (the old MMS) completed an intensive investigation.

The fault for the blowout was clearly BP's since they were the operator of record of the Macondo well.  Cultural issues, hubris and complacency, combined with poor design and poor decision-making all collided into the conflagration that was the blowout.  Inexperienced government officials, BP's obfuscation, and politicians' desire to get the blowing out off the television made matters worse.  Since then, the government has continued to ignore the extent of the damage, and Americans are either ignorant or uninterested about where their gasoline comes from.  The beat goes on.

Last week, former members of the Spill Commission issued a follow-up report about government and industry actions since their initial report was issued.  Congress got the lowest grade, D, for obvious reasons.  Agencies and industry were also graded in various areas.  No one got an A.  The most infuriating fact that the report pointed out was something I've been watching in the industry: The Center for Offshore Safety, an independent source for research and work towards better operational safety in offshore drilling.  The model was the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in the nuclear power industry.  Of course, the industry did not support the Center's formation, but finally complied with the recommendation.  What makes the whole thing silly, though, is that it was formed under the authority of the American Petroleum Institute or API.  The API, which used to be a standards setting organization, has morphed into the largest lobbying firm for the industry.  So.  The Center for Offshore Safety is being run by an organization that opposes improving regulation of offshore safety.

We have a long way to go in improving offshore safety.  Equipment, procedures, and people must all be upgraded to prevent another Macondo.  With a deadlocked Congress, dysfunctional regulators, and uncooperative industry, I fear it will take another Macondo before we actually do something.

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