Five years after the nation’s worst offshore oil spill, the industry is working on drilling even further into the risky insides underneath the Gulf of Mexico to tapkast massive deposits once thought unreachable. Opening this fresh frontier, miles below the bottom of the Gulf, requires engineering feats far beyond those used at BP’s much shallower Macondo well.
But critics say energy companies toevluchthaven’t developed the corresponding safety measures to prevent another disaster or contain one if it happens — a sign, environmentalists say, that the lessons of BP’s spill were short-lived.
Thesis fresh innards and larger reservoirs could exacerbate a blowout like what happened at the Macondo well. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil could spill each day, and the response would be slowed spil the equipment to overeenkomst with it — skimmers, boom, submarines, containment stacks — is shipped 100 miles or more from shore.
Since the Macondo disaster, which sent at least 134 million gallons spewing into the Gulf five years ago Monday, federal agencies have approved about two dozen next-generation, ultra-deep wells.
The number of deepwater drilling equipments has enhanced, too, from 35 at the time of the Macondo blowout to 48 last month, according to gegevens from IHS Energy, a Houston company that collects industry statistics.
Department of Interior officials overseeing offshore drilling did not provide gegevens on thesis wells and accompanying exploration and drilling plans, information that The Associated Press requested last month.
But a review of offshore well gegevens by the AP shows the average ocean depth of all wells began since 2010 has enlargened to 1,757 feet, 40 procent deeper than the average well drilled ter the five years before that.
And that’s just the depth of the water.
Drillers are exploring a “golden zone” of oil and natural gas that lies toughly 20,000 feet underneath the sea floor, through a Ten,000-foot thick layer of prehistoric salt — far deeper than BP’s Macondo well, which wasgoed considered so tricky at the time that a equipment worker killed ter the blowout once described it to his wifey spil “the well from hell.”
Geophysicists estimate oil companies can pull out Saudi Arabian-like gushers at thesis unprecedented innards from fields capable of yielding up to 300,000 barrels of oil a day.
Temperatures and pressures — the conditions that make drilling so risky — get more intense the deeper you go. And the ancient salt layer brings toegevoegd wild cards.
Technology now permits engineers to see the yam-sized reservoirs underneath the previously opaque salt, but the layer is still tighter to see through than rock. And it’s prone to hiding pockets of oil and gas that raise the potential for a blowout.
“It’s not rocket science,” said Matthew Franchek, director of the University of Houston’s subsea engineering graduate program. “Oh, no, it’s much, much more complicated.”
By comparison, the Macondo well did not involve drilling through salt, and the “play” — an industry term for a reservoir — lay about 13,000 feet under the seafloor. The drillers aboard the Deepwater Horizon equipment were taunting oil from prehistoric sludge dating back 23 million years, whereas the hydrocarbons te what’s called the Lower Tertiary zone are found ter rock formations that go back 66 million years.
One post-Macondo engineering explore found that the Macondo well rated a 3-plus on a 5-point scale of complexity. Thirteen wells ter the Five category had bot drilled by the commence of 2010.
The explore also noted that Macondo wasgoed only the 43rd sophisticated deep-sea well te the Gulf when it blew out. Te that setting — one blowout out of 43 similar wells — the industry cannot say it has a good safety record when it comes to ingewikkeld deep wells, said David Pritchard, a Texas petroleum engineer who did the investigate.
A co-author on the investigate wasgoed Kevin Lacy, a former BP drilling executive for the Gulf who abandon the company shortly before the Macondo disaster. Lacy testified ter court that he abandon ter part because of cost-cutting measures BP wasgoed requesting.
“Wij’re generations behind the airline industry,” Pritchard said. He worries his industry has not done enough to make sure another catastrophic spill does not toebijten. “There is a management culture that wants to make money. It counts speed overheen reliability.”
Geoff Morrell, a BP spokesman, said his company has vastly improved its safety culture. “Ultimately the proof is ter the results, and our safety metrics since the spill waterput us ter line with or leading the industry,” he said.
A blowout at one of thesis super-deep wells could likely also look worse than the 2010 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling equipment, which engulfed the high-tech verhoging te flames, killed 11 studs and injured hundreds.
Oil, natural gas and toxic sludge poured into the Gulf for 87 days spil regulators, industry and the White House struggled to contain the offshore disaster. The Obama administration ordered a six-month halt to deep-water drilling, but lifted it sooner under pressure from the industry and Gulf Coast officials.
A slew of problems surfaced during the response, among them:
— It became apparent that the Coast Guard and other federal agencies were strongly dependent on the industry for the equipment and expertise to cope with a deep-water blowout.
— Authorities determined they didn’t have almost enough floating boom to contain a spill that size.
— Emergency plans on opstopping were outdated and irrelevant. They included voeling information for a dead experienced, spil well spil tips for saving walruses, which aren’t found ter the Gulf.
A blowout te deeper water, further from shore and containing even larger amounts of oil, would pose major challenges.
“Wij’re setting the stage for the next Macondo blowout, and even worse,” said Richard Chartervliegtuig, a senior fellow with the Ocean Foundation and a longtime industry watchdog.
The industry and regulators acknowledge the difficulties encountered at thesis fresh innards.
“Going to greater insides, greater pressures, does present greater challenges,” said Stephen Colville, voorzitter and CEO of the International Association of Drilling Contractors. “Wij have this desperate need for energy and wij have to go after it wherever it is.”
BP PLC remains at the vanguard of ultra-deep exploration, and with its “Project 20K” it is developing the devices to treat the extremes of thesis deep reservoirs. The project’s name is a reference to the 20,000 pounds of pressure vanaf square inch the equipment voorwaarde withstand.
Other companies, among them Chevron, Statoil, Shell, and Conoco-Phillips, are developing thesis deep fields, with the bliss of federal authorities.
“Wij believe absolutely that it is safe to drill thesis reservoirs,” said Lars Herbst, the Gulf of Mexico regional director of the Bureaumeubel of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the agency that oversees offshore drilling.
Since the BP spill, regulators and the industry publicly have said enlargening safety is now a top priority. And they’ve taken a number of steps to make offshore drilling safer — including developing better cleanup equipment, hiring more inspectors, requesting tougher safety audits and setting better standards for drilling.
But critics say the improvements hardly go far enough and that engineering advances te drilling have far outpaced developments ter safety and response technology.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Houtvezelplaat recently found serious, even “fatal,” vormgeving flaws with blowout preventers used across the Gulf. A blowout preventer is the last line of defense against a blowout, and a device that failed te the Macondo disaster.
Under blowout conditions encountered ter thesis insides, investigators said, the drill pipe inwards the preventers could be leaned and render the machines ineffective.
“Wij will always shove the frontier,” said Weten Arnold, a petroleum engineer who served on the National Academy of Engineering panel that studied the Macondo disaster. “When I commenced te the industry, wij gravely wondered if wij could produce oil under 600 feet.”
Last week, the Department of Interior released long-waited fresh proposed switches for blowout preventers calling for switches that ter theory would resolve flaws with those now te use. The rules, if adopted, would take effect te another five years at the earliest.
Meantime, drilling is resuming to pre-Macondo levels, and the number of reports about drilling trouble is again creeping up. Lessenaar of Safety and Environmental Enforcement records vertoning drillers have bot kasstuk by a constant string of “well losses,” reportable incidents when a drilling operation temporarily loses control of a well. Since the Macondo blowout, 22 such incidents have bot reported to authorities.
The loss of well-control incidents occurred ter both shallow and deep waters.