Remembering the not-so distant past

OE Staff

May 1, 2015

Given that our issue’s focus is the Gulf of Mexico, it is fitting that we remember the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. On 20 April 2010, 11 lives were lost when the Macondo well blew out, spilling millions of barrels of oil, igniting not just a fire, but change in the oil and gas industry.

Deepwater Horizon response in 2010.
Photo from US Coast Guard.

Nothing would ever be truly the same. And while the moratorium in the US slowed operations for a time, it did not slow the desire to innovate, improve safety, and – most importantly – return to work.

Sure, there will be many who say, “Why even bring it up?” To quote Winston Churchill at the House of Commons, 2 May 1935:

“When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story… It falls into that long, dismal catalog of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”

Granted, he was discussing the rising power of the Nazis leading up to World War II, but the quotation could be applied to pre-2010 era thinking in the industry. Because when the warning signs were there, they went unanswered until it was far, far too late.

And five years after the spill, BP is still paying for the error, quite literally. On 16 April, the company announced that its oil spill fund paid out more than US$5 billion to Deepwater Horizon claimants. That cost is part of the $28 billion BP has spent on response, cleanup, and early restoration. And, as the supermajor’s court case continues in New Orleans, a federal judge ruled in January that the Macondo well discharged 3.19 MMbo into the Gulf. The ruling capped the maximum fine – $13.7 billion – BP can face for violations to the US Clean Water Act.

Last month (April), scientists at the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi reported that the Gulf, after the spill, remains resilient. “The true measure of the health of the Gulf of Mexico is how well it can bounce back,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI’s Executive Director. “The spill was a tremendous test of that resiliency, and five years later it seems the Gulf has passed.”

And, much like the Gulf is resilient, so is the oil and gas industry. While, currently, it faces a stark downturn, activity and investment remains strong in this region. To prove that, OE shines a spotlight on deepwater projects, and the development of ultra-high pressure, ultra-high temperature technology in OE's May issue. Additionally, OE profiles EMAS AMC’s new marine base in the Gulf.

In January, the US Department of the Interior issued its proposed oil and gas leasing program for 2017-2022, with 10 sales in the Gulf of Mexico planned. At the time, director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Abigail Ross Hopper said: “This new approach will allow for BOEM to more effectively balance the sales while providing greater flexibility to industry to invest in the Gulf, particularly given the significant energy reforms recently adopted by the Mexican government.”

And, to Hopper’s point, Mexico’s own energy reform has stirred interest in the opportunities that lay in its portion of the Gulf. Even in this downturn, plenty of healthy companies are likely to take a chance on new endeavors there. See page 108 for a roundup of the floating production units already in use offshore Mexico.

While many who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it, let this fifth anniversary show how far we have come, and how much farther we have to go. And with newly proposed rules (30 CFR Part 250) from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement heading our way, change is the only constant.