In response to two losses in federal courtrooms in the last two weeks, the Department of Interior issued a new order yesterday to suspend the drilling of deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Besides the name change, this new order corrects the weaknesses in the previous order that was overturned by the courts and is more directed, focusing on actual forms of well control, rather than simple water depth. The order makes a lot of sense.
The primary change is rather than restricting offshore drilling by depth (previously greater than 500 feet), it is restricted to floating rigs that use subsea BOPs (blowout preventers). In justifying its decision, Interior cited failures in what it called "augmented tests" on the BOPs from the 2 rigs assigned to drill the relief wells, Transocean's DDII and DDIII. Interior required these 2 stacks to be subjected to these additional tests, varying from the normal "stump" tests they usually receive prior to splashing (running them to bottom). These 2 BOPs failed 4 tests, including failure of the EDS (emergency disconnect system), failure of the deadman system, both due to bad valves, and failure to close the casing shear rams due to a faulty control pod. These failures are on BOP stacks owned by Transocean, built in 2004 and 2005. I have to say that it's chilling that these state of the art BOPs suffered failures identical to the failures of the Deepwater Horizon's stack that failed so catastrophically in real life.
I understand the economic issues with a deepwater suspension. I understand the stress and worry with which my colleagues in deepwater operations are experiencing; however, I have one question for all the industry lobbyists and representatives who are howling about this stoppage:
What caused every single safety system to fail on the Deepwater Horizon causing the loss of 11 lives, loss of the rig, and the largest environmental catastrophy in US history?Until someone can answer me that, and how it's been fixed, I cannot support just going back to doing the same thing we were doing before. I am unwilling to put these folks lives at stake for money. The money can be replaced by BP and other deepwater operators while this is fixed.
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