Drilling practice: The good, the bad and the ugly (3)

Drilling

The biggest oil spill in the history of mankind with the biggest settlement in the history of drilling happened about six years ago (20th April, 2010 to 15th July, 2010) in the Gulf of Mexico, near the Missisippi River Delta in the United States of America with 11 people dead, destruction of marine life, pollution of water and sinking of the drillship; Deepwater Horizon owned by Transocean and operated by British Petroleum, BP. The spill was as a result of a wellhead blowout. The coordinates of the spill area are 280 44′.30”N and 880 21’57.40”W and the spill volume is 4.9 million barrels in an area of 6,500Km2 to 176,100Km2. Some operators still take drilling for granted by circumventing standard procedures and global best practices, particularly in these times of cost cutting drilling practices. THE UGLY therefore, appears as a wake-up call to such operators.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill also referred to as the Macondo blowout began on 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP owned Transocean-operated Macondo prospect. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater horizon oil rig, a sea floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days until it was capped on 15 July, 2010. Eleven people went missing and were never found and it is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. The United States government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000m3). After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on 19 September, 2010. Reports in early 2012 indicated the well site was still leaking.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill also referred to as the Macondo blowout began on 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP owned Transocean-operated Macondo prospect. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater horizon oil rig, a sea floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days until it was capped on 15 July, 2010. Eleven people went missing and were never found and it is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, an estimated 8% to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. The United States government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gal; 780,000m3). After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was declared sealed on 19 September, 2010. Reports in early 2012 indicated the well site was still leaking.

A massive response ensued to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil utilizing skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 7,000 m3 of Corexit oil dispersant. Due to the months-long spill, along with adverse effects from the response and clean-up activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and fishing and tourism industries was reported. In Louisiana, 4.6 million pounds of oily material was removed from the beaches in 2013, over double the amount collected in 2012. Oil clean-up crews worked four days a week on 55 miles of Louisiana shoreline throughout 2013. Oil continued to be found as far from the Macondo site as the waters of the Florida Panhandle and Tampa Bay, where scientists said the oil and dispersant mixture is embedded in the sand. In 2013, it was reported that Dolphins and other marine life continue to die in numbers with infant Dolphins dying at six times the normal rate. One study released in 2014 reported that Tuna and Amberjack that were exposed to oil from the spill developed deformities of the heart and other organs that would be expected to be fatal or at least, life-shortening and another study found that cardio-toxicity might have been widespread in animal life exposed to the spill.

A massive response ensued to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil utilizing skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 7,000 m3 of Corexit oil dispersant. Due to the months-long spill, along with adverse effects from the response and clean-up activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and fishing and tourism industries was reported. In Louisiana, 4.6 million pounds of oily material was removed from the beaches in 2013, over double the amount collected in 2012. Oil clean-up crews worked four days a week on 55 miles of Louisiana shoreline throughout 2013. Oil continued to be found as far from the Macondo site as the waters of the Florida Panhandle and Tampa Bay, where scientists said the oil and dispersant mixture is embedded in the sand. In 2013, it was reported that Dolphins and other marine life continue to die in numbers with infant Dolphins dying at six times the normal rate. One study released in 2014 reported that Tuna and Amberjack that were exposed to oil from the spill developed deformities of the heart and other organs that would be expected to be fatal or at least, life-shortening and another study found that cardio-toxicity might have been widespread in animal life exposed to the spill.

Numerous investigations explored the causes of the explosion and record-setting spill. Notably, the United States government’s September 2011 report pointed to defective cement on the well, faulting mostly BP, but also rig operator Transocean and cementing contractor Halliburton. Earlier in 2014, a White House commission likewise blamed BP and its partners for a series of cost-cutting decisions and an insufficient safety system, but also concluded that the spill resulted from “systemic” root causes and absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies.

In November 2012, BP and the United States Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors and a felony count of lying to Congress. BP also agreed to four years of government monitoring of its safety practices and ethics, and the Environmental Protection agency announced that BP would be temporarily banned from new contracts with the United States government. BP and the Department of Justice agreed to a record-setting $4.525 billion in fines and other payments but further legal proceedings not expected to conclude until 2014 are outgoing to determine payouts and fines under the Clean Water Act and the Natural Resources Damage Assessment. As of February 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payouts to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion.

In September 2014, a United States District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct.

In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in the history of the United States of America.
The Deepwater Horizon Drillship in flames The spill as captured by satellite
In conclusion, the drilling cost of the Macondo well was just a minute fraction of the total cost incurred by BP for environmental clean-up, loss of men and machine and court settlement. This is THE UGLY side of bad drilling practices and the reward for ignoring industry standards. In the absence of relevant oversight agencies with enough will and statutory powers to rein in errant operators that have thrown standard procedures to the dogs, it is up to such operators to be well guided!

Kayode Adeoye is an energy expert from Lagos

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