Thursday 17 June 2010

bp oil rupture

News swirling around the incident in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) compels me to draw out some salient facts and gather them here to help the uninitiated (I did this yesterday for my in-laws). This blog title is from the last slide of the video in my last blogpost.

[A roughneck almost 35 years ago in the Alberta, western Canada foothills on a service rig, I witnessed its burning by a casing gas kick. And on another deep gas exploration well it took 12 hrs to trip out 10,000+ ft. (3,000+ m.) drill pipe. I was later geologist at Shell and the Geological Survey of Canada until 25 years ago. 

I ran at that time a workshop with CBC Radio Canada reporter Des Kilfoil to help improve industry coverage, after a mis-reported story created an incident locally. 

I've been the oil&gas data management and GIS service sector ever since. And for full diclosure, I managed a Halliburton project end of 1999 at then BP Amoco in Sunbury UK, at the time when then head Lord Browne rebranded the company as bp.

(service rig before the fire, S Alberta foothills, W Canada)]

Here are a few observations (not criticisms), a personal addition to what has been abundantly reported in the media. Let's take these one by one, shall we?
- deep offshore GoM drilling is an outer limit frontier
- lease permitting had been managed by a one agency
- disaster response mixed public and private sectors
- and economic and political backdrops remain fluid

Drilling at almost a mile water depth raises significant challenges in disaster recovery - ROVs and vidcams notwithstanding, attempts to snuff the blowout were all experimental as reported in the press. And drilling a further couple of miles below a continental margin encounters very high pressures and temperatures that are not yet routine operationally. The only exploration and production analog is offshore Brazil, which also had its share of incidents.

The Mineral Management Service (MMS) managed the offshore petroleum exploration leases, as well as the environmental impact and industrial safety. As reported in the news that can present conflicts of interest, and these functions are now split among different agencies. Also lease auctions garnered enough revenue to almost single-handedly fund the US Department of Interior, and financial success didn't encourage close scrutiny.

Terrorism, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes invoke disaster responses from local through state to federal agencies - coordination has been a lesson in improving inter-agency communication - and GIS has played an increasing role. As mentioned toward the end of my second-last blogpost, this incident however invoked both public and private sectors - coordination has neither been planned nor expected - and the only analog at least in scope, the Exxon Valdez incident was too far removed in time and geographic setting to be applicable.

The political backdrop is also murky. For example the current excitement for shale gas - new domestic reserves of natural gas and close to US markets, but costing twice as much to produce than to sell, and demanding huge amounts of water from aquifers already straining to meet urban demand - underscores the risks both industry and society will take to secure domestic supply. Or just as Outer Continental Shelf and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge moratoria on petroleum exploration were being lifted, drilling is shut down in the Gulf of Mexico. The road ahead is far from being straight...

Driving in the southern Alberta foothills south of Calgary, Canada

Update - Oil&Gas Journal announced on 16 July:

The US House Natural Resources Committee July 15 approved by a vote of 27-21 the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, HR 3534.

Introduced by Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) in September 2009, the CLEAR Act addresses the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and spill in the gulf as well as implements reforms in the country’s offshore and onshore oil and gas leasing program.[...]

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