The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Commission Identifies Deepwater Horizon Missteps

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted January 6, 2011

The presidential commission examining the Deepwater Horizon accident has determined that several missteps contributed last April's blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, including poor decision-making by the companies' management and government regulators. According to an excerpt from its report, the commission found the tragedy "was not the product of a series of abberational decisions made by a rogue industry...the root causes are systemic" and should be corrected.

Among the failures highlighted in the document are gaps in communications between the rig workers on the Deepwater Horizon and within their companies, a lack of effective oversight by government regulators, and the failure of managers to understand the consequences of their decisions.

The commission identified nine decisions that increased the risk of a blowout. To cite one example, AP today noted that BP asked government regulators for permission to set an "unusually deep cement plug" in the Macondo well, and government officials approved the request within 90 minutes.

There also is the question of the blowout preventer and why it did not stop the flow of oil at the seafloor. This massive piece of equipment has been moved to a NASA facility in New Orleans where it is being analyzed by federal investigators. Their report is expected to be finished in February. The commission's full and final report is slated to be given to the president on Jan. 11.

Immediately after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the oil and natural gas industry examined its own offshore operations, standards, and practices, and suggested several changes to improve safety. Many of these recommendations have been implemented and others are in progress. Also, the federal government reorganized the agency responsible for overseeing offshore development and issued new offshore exploration and production rules.

Since the accident, no new deepwater drilling permits have been issued, and the number of permits in shallow water has been reduced significantly. The Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration estimates that Gulf of Mexico oil production in federal waters will decline by 180,000 barrels per day in 2011.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.