After Deepwater Horizon, Could New Rules Make Gulf Drilling Safer?

If there is a benefit to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is that offshore oil workers who risk their lives on the job may now be safer. The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has finalized new offshore drilling safety rules that are aimed at preventing another fatal explosion and environmental disaster.

As a result of the failures, the BSEE imposed new drilling safety regulations designed to make sure oil can be stopped if there are problems with the well. The changes strengthen requirements for:

  • Safety equipment
  • Well control systems
  • Blowout prevention practices (BOPs)

In addition to dealing with the design of the well, the rules require that blowout preventers be independently tested to make sure they can cut off the flow of oil. In 2010, the blowout preventers failed, allowing the uncontrolled flow of oil.

Eleven Workers Killed in Deadly 2010 Explosion

The failure of the blowout preventer was a major part of what made the Deepwater Horizon so devastating. The mobile unit was drilling an exploratory well for BP Exploration and Production, Inc., about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. In April 2010, the unit violently exploded, became engulfed in flames and sank. Eleven offshore oil workers were killed; other workers were injured.

Deep below the surface, oil and other dangerous substances began flowing freely. BP was unable to cap the well immediately, and oil flowed freely into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. It was the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

New Rules Are Final Versions of Interim Safety Measures

A temporary moratorium on offshore drilling was put in place as investigators sought to find out what went wrong. When drilling began again, a series of interim safety rules were put in place. The recently released final rules are a refined version of these rules. BOPs, for example, have been extended to well completions, workovers and decommissioning operations.

While the final rules provide stronger safety requirements and guards against defective equipment than the rules previously in place, some environmental groups believe that the rules do not go far enough, the inspection system is still too lax, and the fines for violations too low.

Still, the rules caused significant change in the offshore oil and gas industry worldwide. Other countries-including major gas and oil exporter Norway-also imposed stricter regulations after the failure of the Deep Horizon.

The disaster and new rules have not stopped offshore drilling, however. During the last two years, more than 750 permits for oil activity in shallow water and deep water have been approved in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in an offshore drilling rig accident, due to a pipeline explosion or other damage caused by an oil and gas company, contact an attorney experienced in handling oil and gas injuries.