MEI 793 University of Macondo: The Need for a Continuing Conversation
HOUSTON — The continuing importance of the Macondo blowout and oil spill of 2010 lies not only in the need to better understand the physical and social science of the incident; it also lies in the need for stakeholders in petroleum provinces where there are multiple, national jurisdictions to be prepared for a coordinated response in the event of a future, Macondo-scale incident. The correct choice for the Macondo well was to plug and abandon. The regulator was at fault for allowing the much more risky choice of temporary abandonment to proceed.
Tables 1-4 examine safety issues before, during and immediately after the incident. Table 4 is a list of pending items related to technology, policy and international relations.
On November 10, 2015, we had a conversation with Taf Powell, the EVP of the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) about this report. He agreed with our assessment that the well should have been plugged and abandoned, adding that BP had not carried out a risk assessment following the decision to convert the Macondo well into a partially completed production, for which aim the procedures for temporary, not permanent, abandonment would be followed.
Mr. Powell had been a senior UK offshore regulator and had been closely involved in the reaction to Macondo. “Europe took Macondo more seriously than did the U.S. We completely changed our approach to safety. It’s not easy to do that under the US CFR [Code of Federal Regulations].”
In this light, there is a very big lesson to be learned by regulators in all three jurisdictions in the Gulf of Mexico: US, Mexico and Cuba. Regulators must be exceedingly skeptical of any request by an operator to convert an exploration well into a (future) production well, especially in deepwater where the high cost of the rig (over $500,000 for Deepwater Horizon). The high daily expense could motivate the operator and site leaders to take risks to save money (and thereby earn their bonuses).
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