By TOM FOWLER
HOUSTON -- A federal safety agency has determined that the
offshore-drilling industry is relying on the wrong data in its
quest to prevent major accidents like the 2010 Deepwater
Offshore oil and gas drillers put too much emphasis on items
such as individual worker injuries while neglecting better
indicators of danger, such as the number of near-misses a
drilling rig experiences or whether safety equipment are
maintained on schedule, according to preliminary findings of
the US Chemical Safety Board's investigation of the Deepwater
"Personal-injury data can give a misleading picture of the
safety of an operation since those accidents typically don't
correspond to major accidents," said Don Holmstrom, the
agency's lead investigator.
"Areas such as incident investigation, change management and
equipment maintenance need to be a focus over
and above personal injury and prevention."
The agency's verdict
is part of a wide response among US regulators to the blast in
April 2010 that sank a Transocean drilling rig leased by BP in
the US Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and unleashing the worst
offshore oil spill in US history.
The CSB typically investigates accidents at chemical plants
and refineries, but a Congressional committee asked it to
compare the Deepwater Horizon disaster to the lethal 2005
explosion at BP's Texas City refinery.
The CSB's safety investigation on the Texas City incident
led to widespread changes in petrochemical industrial
Some in the offshore industry have resisted the agency's
efforts, saying it lacks jurisdiction over offshore matters.
Transocean is fighting subpoenas by the CSB to interview its
employees, an issue that is pending before a federal judge in
In its report and in papers to be presented by experts
during two days of conferences starting Monday in Houston, the
CSB said that the offshore-energy business in the US has not
done nearly enough to bring its operating procedures up to par
with those found in the North Sea and other
US regulators don't require companies to report all
incidents that lead to the release of oil or gas, and also
don't require the reporting of "kicks," instances where there's
a significant surge in pressure from a well that could lead to
a blowout, according to a paper by Andrew Hopkins, a professor
at the Australian National University.
But regulators in Norway and Australia require all hydrocarbon releases, even small ones, to
be reported as well as all kicks.
Tracking such incidents, how quickly crews respond to them
and whether companies keep key safety equipment maintained on
schedule could give a better picture of how well prepared
operators are to handle actual risks, according to Mr.
The industry's emphasis on personal injuries led Transocean
to report 2010 as its best year ever for safety performance,
based in large part on the number of incidents it was required
to report to regulators for every 200,000 employee hours
The company issued large bonuses to top executives because
of the safety performance figures but later donated the bonus
money to a fund for the families of victims of the Deepwater
After the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, the US energy industry
created the Center for Offshore Safety to develop new standards
for offshore exploration and production.
The center's director, Charlie Williams, is expected to
testify about the group's work on Tuesday.
The CSB will release specific safety recommendations for
equipment related to the accident, including the blowout
preventer, later this year.
The blowout preventer is a valve that controls the flow of
oil and gas out of a submarine well; it failed during the
Deepwater Horizon incident.
Dow Jones Newswires