The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn't have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.The revelations suggest that while BP and its rig operator Transocean may have complied with the letter of the law in operating the Deepwater Horizon, they certainly did not live up to repeated claims both companies have made as to the safety of their operations.
The lack of the device, called an acoustic switch, could amplify concerns over the environmental impact of offshore drilling after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, hired by oil giant BP PLC, last week.
In Congressional testimony last November, BP Vice President for Gulf of Mexico Exploration David Rainey said that members of Congress and the public were not giving enough credit to the oil industry for the safety of its offshore drilling activities:
Contrary to popular perception, ours is a high-tech industry. To demonstrate this point, I would like to highlight three technologies which enable the safe and reliable production of offshore oil and gas.Rainey then proceeded to discuss a list of drilling technologies that did not include acoustic switches, which are a required component of all new offshore rigs in Norway and Brazil. It's not exactly a new technology: Norwegian offshore rigs have been using acoustic switches since 1993.
For its part, Transocean wants to make its customers well-aware of its bulletproof commitment to safety. In a glossy brochure promoting its fleet of offshore rigs, the company says:
Transocean's diversity of people and assets is complemented by a Safety Vision of providing an incident-free workplace. All the time, everywhere.It's a Safety Vision that's based on what Transocean later calls its "unparalleled technical leadership." That would unparalleled except in Brazil or Norway, where Transocean's operations would be considered outdated by about 17 years.
And in case you were thinking the world's major oil companies can't afford a little more dedication to the safety of their workers and the environment, consider this: while the burning hulk that was once the Deepwater Horizon continues to spew crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, ExxonMobil posted a profit today of $6.3 billion (up 38 percent from last year at this time) and ConocoPhillips surged to a profit of $2.1 billion (up 46 percent).
The oil spill also comes at a time when truly innovative and safe technology -- offshore wind power -- was just approved in the form of the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts.