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Industry, regulators should take 'system safety' approach to offshore drilling in aftermath of Deepwater Horizon accident, says new report
Date:12/14/2011

WASHINGTON To reduce the risk of another accident as catastrophic as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, a new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council says, companies involved in offshore drilling should take a "system safety" approach to anticipating and managing possible dangers at every level of operation -- from ensuring the integrity of wells to designing blowout preventers that function "under all foreseeable conditions." In addition, an enhanced regulatory approach should combine strong industry safety goals with mandatory oversight at critical points during drilling operations.

The report says the lack of effective safety management among the companies involved in the Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon disaster is evident in the multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout and explosion, which killed 11 workers and produced the biggest accidental oil spill in U.S. history. Regulators also failed to exercise effective oversight.

"The need to maintain domestic sources of oil is great, but so is the need to protect the lives of those who work in the offshore drilling industry as well as protect the viability of the Gulf of Mexico region," said Donald C. Winter, former secretary of the Navy, professor of engineering practice at the University of Michigan, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "Industry and regulators need to include a factual assessment of all the risks in deepwater drilling operations in their decisions and make the overall safety of the many complex systems involved a top priority."

Despite challenging geological conditions, alternative techniques and processes were available that could have been used to prepare the exploratory Macondo well safely for "temporary abandonment" -- sealing it until the necessary infrastructure could be installed to support hydrocarbon production, the report says. In addition, several signs of an impending blow
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Contact: Molly Galvin
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
National Academy of Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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