Harper’s Magazine revealed on Tuesday that deepwater drilling is set to resume near the site of the nation’s largest oil spill 5 years ago. The Macondo reservoir, located about 45 miles off of the Louisiana coast, was the site of the 2010 fire and massive BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill left 11 people dead and spilled an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Nearly 5 years after spill, on April 13th, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved a permit to drill into the reservoir to LLOG Exploration, a privately-owned Covington, Louisiana firm. While many improvements and regulatory changes have occurred in the industry to prevent a repeat disaster, some fear that LLOG Exploration does not have the ability to ensure such an outcome despite their flawless reputation.
In the wake of the 2010 spill, regulators have undergone a number of measures to prevent a duplicate disaster. In addition to nearly doubling the number of federal inspectors in the gulf region, much of the area around the disaster was split up into smaller parcels. BP still owns roughly 270 acres where the sunken rig remains at the floor, and has discontinued operations on that parcel out of respect for the dead and in order to operate additional cleanup measures, if necessary. The other 5,490 acres of the Macondo reservoir, however, are owned by LLOG Exploration. As another regulatory hurdle, the company’s exploration plan was met with approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Associate director of Tulane University’s Energy Institute, Eric Smith calls LLOG Exploration “extremely well-financed and well-organized. If I were to pick anyone to go into that field after so many problems, I would pick LLOG. They have demonstrated their ability to drill in the area.” LLOG executives tout that they have drilled over 50 areas in the gulf since 2002, including 8 similar drills near the BP disaster site. LLOG has stated publicly their concern for the sensitivity of the issue, as vice president Rick Fowler stated, “Our commitment is to not allow such an event to occur again. LLOG staff keeps the memory of what happened … fresh in our minds throughout our operations, both planning and execution.”
Needless to say, not everyone shares the same level of confidence as Smith and Fowler given the gravity of the 2010 spill and its continued effects on the environment and the industry. Although BP recently announced that the environment surrounding the spill is “returning to pre-spill conditions,” legal wrangling is ongoing to determine the actual amount of damage created by the disaster. Greenpeace has been fighting with BP to release archived information regarding the cleanup, a move that Greenpeace asserts, prevents understanding the best practices in case of disaster. Richard Charter, a senior fellow at watchdog group, Ocean Foundation, questions LLOG Exploration’s financial and logistical capability, saying, “BP had deep pockets. You don’t want someone not particularly qualified and not fully amortized to be tangling with this particular dragon. When a company can’t pay when something goes wrong, generally it’s the public that pays.” Even in its exploration plans, LLOG estimates that a similar disaster to 2010 would take 109 days to correct and cause over 2 million barrels of oil to spill into the region.
Brandchannel – Sheila Shayon
Houston Business Journal – Olivia Pulsinelli
Minnesota Star-Tribune/AP – Cain Burdeau