Deepwater drilling doubts rise

3rd February 2011

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  • Water ,
  • Prevention & Control ,
  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
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There are serious doubts that the North Sea oil industry has the capacity to effectively deal with any deepwater drilling emergency similar to last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

That is the conclusion of the House of Commons energy and climate change committee (ECCC).

“The harsh and windy conditions in the North Sea would make an oil spill off the coast of Shetland very diffi cult to contain or clean up,” warned committee chair, Tim Yeo.

Although the ECCC stops short of calling for a moratorium on deepwater drilling and acknowledges that existing safety regulations on drilling in the UK are tougher than they were in the Gulf of Mexico, MPs are concerned that oil companies’ response plans fail to take into account local conditions.

New systems for capping or containing a spill should be designed with the harsh and challenging North Sea environment in mind, they say.

The committee is urging the Health and Safety Executive to consider prescribing the use of the failsafe device (Blind Shear Rams) that failed to operate on the Deepwater Horizon, because its battery was flat, on all UK deepwater rigs.

“Requiring oil rigs to fi t an extra failsafe device, to cut and seal the pipes if a blowout occurs, is an option that must now be considered,” said Yeo.

Meanwhile, the US government is suing BP for the Gulf of Mexico spill, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.

“Under the Clean Water Act penalties of up to $4,300 per barrel can be imposed for the 4.9 million barrels spilled. Under the Oil Pollution Act, it can be made to pay for the damages of the spill including all clean-up costs,” comments environment lawyer James Thornton.

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