Six lessons from the BP oil spill
What the tragedy of the BP oil spill has taught us about regulations, technology, and how our energy diet must change.
(Page 4 of 10)
"In 10 years or less, you will see all these sorts of technologies addressing the most difficult and dangerous drilling situations – and cutting the huge costs of these giant rigs," says Stein Bjørnstad, an oil exploration expert at BI Norwegian School of Management in Oslo.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
To enhance offshore oversight, some experts say data from the sensors could be transmitted to a command center onshore or to government agencies. This would let regulators monitor rig operations and provide information about what happened during a spill or blowout. "What I'm talking about is an extra set of eyes" off the platform, says Elgie Holstein, a strategic planner at the Environmental Defense Fund.
3 manage the cleanup like Churchill
"The industry thought it was added cost, and because incentives were heavily biased towards cost cutting, they turned it down," says Roger Anderson, a senior scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.
One result: BP has in essence been trying to invent ways to stop the blowout in the Gulf on the fly. This may be the most basic lesson from the disaster about how to manage oil spills in the future. As simple as it sounds, oil companies need to acknowledge that catastrophic events are going to happen, even if infrequently, and build responses into their corporate DNA, no matter what the cost.
In BP's case, "it's not so much that they weren't prepared, it's that they had not even considered the possibility" of such an event, says Dr. Anderson.
Concerns about the lack of response planning carry eerie echoes of hurricane Katrina. Yet there are differences with oil spills. One is the overlapping web of responsibilities. Oil companies control the rigs where the accidents happen. Once the crude gushes up from the seafloor, other entities get involved. But government and other responders still have to rely on the companies to stop the blowout.
"The majors who go out and drill in deep water have all the expertise – the government does not," says David Pettit, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "When it comes to what happens when the oil hits the water, the oil companies don't have a monopoly on what to do. Even using the word expertise is laughable when you see what's going on out there. They're clearly making it up as they go along."
For all the complaints from state and local officials about red tape and poor coordination in the federal response, it's come a long way since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. "The command structure in the early days of the Exxon Valdez spill underwent a complete meltdown," says Rick Kurtz, a political scientist at Central Michigan University, who, as an analyst in the National Park Service's Anchorage office at the time, wrote a lessons-learned report on the response.