Committed to safety, prevention, response

02 03, 2015 by Lori LeBlanc | BIC Magazine

The offshore energy industry and the federal government have cooperatively made great strides over the past several years to further enhance the safety of drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, as oil and gas development in the Gulf continues to grow, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry’s commitment to fueling this nation through safe and environmentally sound operations also strengthens.

Immediately after the Macondo incident in 2010, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry launched a comprehensive review of offshore safety measures and operations to identify potential improvements in prevention, intervention and response. Pioneering collaborative efforts and development of new technology and standards sparked significant advancements in these three focus areas, all designed to ensure people and the environment are protected during all phases of energy exploration, development and production.

When it comes to prevention, operational procedures and employee training play a key role in preventing worker injuries and oil spills. That is why industry has adopted and implemented some of the strictest operating and training standards of all industries in the U.S., referred to as Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS). Employee training is centered on process safety and promotes the safe use of equipment. On the job, following appropriate protocols, as well as maintenance procedures, ensures the safe operation of equipment to prevent spills and worker accidents from occurring.

Technology plays a vital role as well. When drilling through the soil and rock layers to reach the oil and natural gas deposits, the pressure must be controlled as it increases with respect to the depth of drilling. Modern drilling techniques control this pressure to keep oil and natural gas from escaping into the environment. In addition, E&P facilities now use advanced technologies that incorporate multiple backup safety systems, including multiple backup blowout preventers to eliminate environmental impacts.

There is no such thing as being over prepared, especially when it comes to the safety of workers and the health of our environment. So in July 2010, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips committed to providing a new containment response capability for operations in the Gulf, creating the Marine Well Containment Co. (MWCC), an independent company headquartered in Houston. Its mission is to be continuously ready to respond to a deepwater well control incident in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico with effective well containment equipment and technology.

In February 2011, MWCC’s interim containment system became available for use in the Gulf of Mexico, greatly improving industry’s ability to respond to a deepwater incident. MWCC is also working at advancing its capabilities to keep pace with its members’ needs. The company is now developing an expanded containment system (ECS) to further increase capacity. Delivery of the components of the ECS will take place over the coming months and following the full ECS acceptance, this equipment and the original system combined will form the most advanced well containment system available in the world. It is truly an amazing achievement for American workers, industry and innovation.

Response capabilities have also been enhanced by industry’s investment in research and development of 25 projects covering concepts like offshore spill response plans, shoreline protection, inland spill response and mechanical recovery. In addition, in 2011, the energy industry formed the Center for Ofshore Safety (COS) to improve the safety performance of America’s offshore oil and gas operators. The COS supports companies in their efforts to continuously improve offshore drilling and operations by developing and sharing best practices and safety and environmental management systems.

The Gulf of Mexico energy industry has never been more prepared than it is today to prevent, intervene and respond to incidents and spills. As production continues in America’s Gulf, so will industry’s commitment to safe and environmental protective operations as it fuels our great nation.