‘Carbon Copy’ Spill Plans Need Overhaul, Industry Says

Jim Efstathiou Jr.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Offshore oil drillers should upgrade the disaster-response plans that lawmakers have described as “carbon copy,” according to two industry task forces probing BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill. The plans should specify how much oil may be released in a worst-case scenario, the National Ocean Industries Association said today in a statement on the recommendations. Exxon Mobil Corp., BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc were deemed ill prepared for a major spill because their response plans were almost identical, lawmakers said June 15 at a congressional hearing.

BP’s Macondo well off the Louisiana coast exploded in April, killing 11 workers and triggering the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill. Legislation overhauling offshore drilling rules that passed the U.S. House in July would require updated response plans that are specific to different regions. The report “shines a light on the path forward, but it is not the end of the journey,” Randall Luthi, president of NOIA, said in a statement as the findings were presented today in Houston to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Interior Department unit that oversees drilling. At the June 15 hearing, Representative Edward Markey, chairman of the energy and environment panel of the House Energy Committee, pressed oil company executives on why their response plans included references to making sure crude doesn’t injure walruses, which don’t live in Gulf of Mexico waters. ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Officer James Mulva called the disclosure “embarrassing.” Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said, “It’s unfortunate that walruses were included.”

Resource Identification Policies implemented by regulators after BP’s spill require companies to estimate the amount of oil that might gush from an undersea well if systems designed to cap the flow fail in an emergency. Companies also must better identify available resources to deal with a spill in their response plans, according to today’s report. Chemical dispersants used by BP helped prevent oil from reaching shore, according to the report. Mechanical means such as skimmers and vacuums recovered a “low percentage” of oil.

More research is needed for burning oil at the surface. Further research also is needed to locate spilled oil. Companies, the govermment and research should fund advances in the use of satellites, sonar and high-frequency radio waves to find spills. The task forces -- one on spill preparedness and the other on subsea containment -- include groups such as NOIA, the American Petroleum Institute, the United States Oil and Gas Association, the Independent Producers of America Association and the International Association of Drilling Contractors. The subsea containment group’s 29 recommendations included requiring technology to separate drilling equipment from a blowout preventer, the device that failed in the BP spill, using remotely operated vehicles. To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in Washington at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net.

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