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Deepwater Horizon: An American Tragedy

The global oil and gas industry has been responsible for several disasters over the past decade, but few have heard of them. When Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, safety in this business became a worldwide issue.

This article was published in the publication "Safety - status and signals 2010-2011".

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Some of the incidents which rocked the industry in recent years are known to and much discussed by insiders. They include Montara off Australia in August 2009 and the Aban Pearl and Petrobras P36 sinkings off Venezuela last year and Brazil in 2001 respectively.

But neither the industry nor society as a whole has taken much notice of platform losses which reportedly occurred off Egypt in the past three-four years.

Little information is available about these events.A number of other serious oil and gas accidents in nonwestern parts of the world have also failed to arouse much interest.

But the tragedy in the US Gulf has become a global disaster. Almost 4.7million Google searches for Deepwater Horizon were recorded this January.Everyone has heard of this accident, seen the pictures, heard the comments and noted that an oil disaster has occurred off Louisiana.

The incident was certainly a disaster in anyone’s terms, and accords with the PSA’s own defi nition of a major accidentin the petroleum industry.

This is an acute incident, such as a major spill, fire or explosion, which immediately or later causes a number ofserious personal injuries and/or loss of human life, serious harm to the environment and/or loss of large material assets.

Deepwater Horizon meets all these criteria. Eleven people were killed and 17 injured – some seriously.

Huge volumes of oil were discharged to the sea. The financial losses are astronomic.

This US disaster has been responsible for nothing less than a paradigm shift in society’s perception of the importance of safety in the petroleum industry.

Most of the world’s major producing nations have initiated follow-ups, projects and studies in the wake of the tragedy, and demands and expectations for action are being voiced.

These include calls for global regulation, international coordination, crossnational regulatory requirements and a more unified safety regime in general for petroleum operations.

Supranational bodies and certain nations have launched initiatives on international cooperative eff orts to assess how regional and global challenges can be tackled.

They include the European Union, the Oslo-Paris convention for the protection of the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic (Ospar), the G20, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) and the International
Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC).

The PSA established a project team on 7 May 2010 with some 20 members drawn from relevant disciplines to follow up the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Its overall goal is to systematise and assess experience and investigations in the wake of this incident, so that appropriate lessons can contribute to learning and improvement on the NCS.

The project will identify areas where enhancements can be made to the requirements in Norway’s regulations and/or other types of measures related to Norwegian petroleum operations.

Other assignments for the team include:

The project will assess Deepwater Horizon in relation to similar incidents in order to identify common features, with particular reference to Montara, Aban Pearl and the loss of mooring chain on Ocean Vanguard off Norway in 2004.

Plans call for the team’s conclusions to be published this spring. No final date had been set when this issue went to press. Key elements will be published on the PSA website.

This article was published in the publication "Safety - status and signals 2010-2011".