A year has passed since we saw the devastating Deepwater Horizon spill bring a halt to all oil drilling activity in the Mexican Gulf. Now, as the industry begins to commence drilling operations in the region, we are left wondering whether they are better prepared in the event of another spill.
Last week the American Petroleum Institute, part of the US Oil Industry Association, launched a new safety body to set and monitor standards for offshore drilling. This news comes after the announcement that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has issued the first deepwater Gulf permit to Noble Energy and BP since the disaster.
While I think it is encouraging that drilling is set to resume in the Gulf, there is still a pressing issue that needs to be addressed. At high risk of suffering extreme weather conditions, such as tropical storms and hurricanes, the threat to rigs and oil drilling in the area remains a real concern. With the majority of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico conducted from fixed platforms, damage in the event of bad weather or on-site emergencies such as fires, have a significant impact on operators and investors as any downtime that ensues means commercial loss. If damage leads to a spill the environmental and political repercussions can be vast and potentially cripple a company’s corporate reputation.
One way to reduce the amount of damage that could occur is for oil companies to move away from fixed platform operations, choosing instead to use dynamically positioned Floating Production Units (FPUs) or Floating Production Storage and Offloading units (FPSOs) with fully disconnectable transfer systems.
In the event of an oncoming storm, the design allows quick disengagement of the vessel from the risers so that the well can be closed off at speed and the FPU can leave its location returning when the weather has settled.
As new safety procedural regulations are being suggested in the region by the MMS (Minerals Management Service) and considering the Gulf’s tropical storms, companies in the region should consider the benefits of using FPUs and FPSOs as a safer way of collecting and transporting oil.