The Offshore Situation Room - Oil spills, government and the media
I was invited to participate in an event sponsored by the National Academies of Science and Engineering a year ago, the Offshore Situation Room. The meeting was delayed by the pandemic and is now scheduled as an online workshop June 15-17, 2021. The OSR, as it’s called, is intended to improve the response to any future oil disasters through innovative game playing, identifying gaps in current response scenarios and recommending ways to mitigate them. I look forward to participating and am honored to be included. I wrote this article to say something about why I intend to participate and what I can bring to the table.
My firsthand knowledge of current Deepwater drilling and production practices is somewhat dated, and I would not have agreed to participate in the workshop as a subject matter expert on pore pressure detection or deepwater drilling. Others are more qualified than me. BUt I do feel that I have a unique perspective based on my experience at LSU during the Deepwater Horizon accident.
I was with Shell Deepwater in various management positions until 2005, when I retired and became the LSU Petroleum Engineering Department chair. I was at LSU in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon accident occurred, and my background and position made me a source of information to government agencies and the media. This did not turn out as well as it could have.
In the aftermath of the blowout, my colleagues at LSU and I were faced with a deluge of questions from state and federal agencies and the media, since industry experts were largely told to remain silent by the companies they worked for. Desperate for advice, they turned to academia to find knowledgeable people. I remember one question from the state of Louisiana about sand control. A report had surfaced that the flow of sand might erode the remaining wellhead on the Macondo well, and drastically increase the flow of oil. A valid concern, and I received a call asking what might happen and how long they had to prepare. This was from people working day and night to try and prepare for and mitigate the disaster.
Unfortunately, I could tell them very little because all of the data was covered by confidentiality agreements, which restricted access to BP, the contractors working on the response, and the Federal government. A few days later I was asked by a reporter what I thought the flow rate of the blowout might be. This would be a straightforward calculation with the right information, but again it was not available. I could only respond with generalities and qualified guesses. I felt that the public, especially those directly impacted by the spill, deserved a more specific answer.
I communicated these concerns to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil SPill when they visited LSU, and they were received with interest and a promise to follow up. I believe that if another incident ever occurs (hopefully it never does), that confidentiality agreements should be waived, and all information made available to the public. Local governments impacted by offshore accidents should be able to contact experts and have their own assessments made of the likely impact so that they can prepare, and the general public should have a more complete picture of what is likely to happen. I believe that I an I’m a unique position to convey this message at the OSR, which is why I have agreed to attend.