Geology And Geophysics

Challenges for Offshore Oil and Gas Production



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One of the greatest challenges for offshore oil and gas production is to preserve our fragile ecosystem and to protect humans and our fragile ecosystem.  Safety guidelines, equipment oversight and regulations have been developed and documented for all offshore drilling companies,  In most cases there is some government oversight to ensure that oil companies are abiding by the regulations; however, as may be seen by the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico accidents and oil spills do happen.  

Oil spills may be traced to defective equipment and/or human error, e.g., a company's inability to diligently follow all the regulations and to ensure that safety equipment is in good working order.  Approximately 20 years ago the Exxon Valdez, the company's storage tanker, was involved in an avoidable accident in its transportation of oil.  The accident was determined to be the Captain's faulty judgment and alcohol consumption.  One of the greatest challenges is to assume the responsibility to lessen the risks of offshore drilling and the transporationt of oil, yet many of those in charge continue to act irresponsibly in complying with the rules of safety and proper inspection, maintenance and repair of rig equipment.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill occurred when an offshore oil rig operated by British Petroleum (BP) exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 of the crew members and spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into surrounding waters.  Fail safe mechanisms, including the Blowout Protecter (BOP) should have been engaged first manually by the drilling crew activating the BOP to seal the source of the oil and prevent spillage into deep waters.  Since the crew could not activate the BOP, there are two additional backup options to activate the BOP.  One of the options includes a “dead man’s switch” that is supposed to activate automatically and a third access to the BOP is via a remote electronic device.  The BOP failed to engage using all three options.

It should be quite obvious by now that British Petroleum is not meeting the challenge of following the safety regulations and standards that most other oil companies abide by.  The company is responsible for the death of its personnel and has directly caused the oil spill that pumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  This is exactly the scenario and the reason that the safety rules and regulations were developed and are provided for oil companies when drilling for offshore production.  The safety regulations are supposed to meet the challenge of preventing fatal accidents and oil spills..

BP is now spending billions of dollars to try to contain the spill.  It is using chemicals that attach to the surface oil to try to keep the surface slick from spreading further out to sea and closer to land.  There are floating beams used to encircle the spill and to keep the slick from extending.  BP is currently using robotic submarines that are supposed to shut off the flow valves on the pipes producing the majority of the spillage.  BP also designed and is building a huge capping device that no one has any idea if it will work in such deep waters.  Another attempt to quell the spill is to use another drilling rig and to drill on an angle into the pipes that are the main source of the leak to divert the leak through the new pipes and into a floating vessel to haul off the oil spill.  Fighting to contain an oil spill is a challenge that can be avoided with the proper safety regulations and making sure that safety devices are in the best working status for when they are needed.  It is too late after an explosion occurs and during an oil spill.  It is now an uphill and losing battle that could have and should have been avoided.

Engineers have designed safety mechanisms to prevent oil spills, such as the current one in the Gulf of Mexico, and yet BP is one of the companies that seems to have an ongoing problem adhering to the safety regulations and keeping safety equipment in working order.  Oil companies must step-up to the challenge of keeping safety as the priority and to ensure a safe environment.

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