On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sunk in the Macondo Prospect. Eleven oil rig workers died, and for 87 days, oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest oil-related disaster in human history.
Five years later, a collection of government, industry and independent reports suggest that while the oil companies and regulators have made strides to prevent another catastrophe like Deepwater Horizon, there is still plenty of work left to be done.
Oil Companies Lack a Culture of Safety
One of the most alarming revelations from the Deepwater Horizon reports was a recurring acknowledgement that BP, Transocean and other oil companies lack a cultural emphasis on offshore safety. The U.S. Coast Guard’s report asserts that Transocean’s “failure to have an effective safety management system and instill a culture that emphasized safety contributed to [the Deepwater Horizon] disaster.” Similarly, a university study concluded that BP’s corporate culture was “embedded in risk-taking and cost-cutting” at the time of the Macondo blowout.
As we have previously discussed, the oil companies are continuing to look for ways to cut costs, and experts continue to warn about the dangers offshore workers face when their employers emphasize profits over safety. Five years after Deepwater Horizon, in many ways, it appears that not all that much has really changed.
Better Safety Protocols are Needed to Protect Offshore Workers
According to the Obama National Commission’s report, there were warning signs in the weeks and moments leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. However, inadequate safety protocols led to a slow response that ultimately pushed the rig past the point of no return.
The National Commission identified nine specific decisions (most of which were made in order to save time, and presumably cut costs) that contributed to increased risks – and ultimately put workers in a position where they were unable to prevent the blowout.
Assessing oil companies’ safety practices and protocols today, many experts assert that the oil companies still do not have adequate protections in place to avoid a similar disaster. As a result, the National Commission has recommended increased government oversight and heightened financial responsibility for the oil companies in order to force more effective change.
Separating the Interests of Safety and Resource Management
From a worker safety perspective, one of the most significant outcomes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster may be the establishment of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). BSEE is tasked with developing, overseeing and enforcing safety standards for offshore oil exploration and production. Critically, BSEE is independent of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), which is tasked with promoting energy independence and economic development. Previously, the functions of BSEE and BOEM were under the same umbrella, which led to a de-emphasis of goal-based safety.
It remains to be seen what effects BSEE will have on the offshore drilling industry. But, at Morrow & Sheppard LLP, we are hopeful that the agency will be able to implement better protections for workers in the Gulf of Mexico.
Aggressive Representation for Offshore Workers
Sadly, workers in the Gulf of Mexico continue to face deadly risks on a daily basis. If you have been injured or lost a loved one working offshore in an oil rig explosion or accident, our offshore injury lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP want to help you fight for the compensation you deserve by contacting our law offices at (800) 489-2216 or requesting a consultation today.