Napolitano praises response efforts so far to gulf oil spill

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, May 18 -- While conceding that the ongoing crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has posed unusual and unexpected challenges, US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano told a US Senate committee on May 17 that federal and industry responses have been aggressive and impressive so far. Cleanup and containment of this spill will provide important new information for future responses, she and other witnesses suggested.

“With every incident that occurs, lessons are learned,” Napolitano said at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee’s hearing. “I think that’s one of the reasons why the president has been so very clear that further deepwater drilling permits are going to be stopped until this can be investigated and assurances can be made that things have been changed so we don’t have a duplication of the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

The US Coast Guard has conducted a spill of national significance exercise every 3 years since the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in 1989 in Alaska’s Prince William Sound as well as frequent regional and local drills, noted Rear Adm. Peter V. Neffenger, deputy incident commander in the latest federal oil spill response. “I think they’ve paid off,” he told committee members. “I think the response this time clearly is superior to what we did in that spill more than 20 years ago.”

“Clearly, if you’re actually cleaning up oil, there’s an expertise you develop that can’t be developed any other way,” said Napolitano. “I think we have capability now and we have a lot of people who have looked at this over an extended period. There’s capability in private industry, with respect to the Oil Spill Response Corp., and they’re required to maintain expertise. There also are a number of ongoing smaller spills every year that do provide opportunities for training people and responding.”

Asked by Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Me.), the committee’s ranking minority member, to assess the oil industry’s response to the spill from the deepwater well in the gulf, Napolitano said she would reserve judgment.

BP moved quickly
“I will say that BP’s leadership—its American head and its chief executive—were in Washington very quickly,” she continued. “They immediately assumed responsibility, as the responsible party should have. They have been in the command centers and staging areas. They have been working in terms of cleanup, hiring local fishermen to help deploy boom for example. Whether they should have had more or different equipment there or more and different kinds of expertise around the rig in the exact hours around the sinking and explosions would be premature of me to say.”

“I’ve seen the response firsthand, and I’ve talked to the men and women who are working on the frontlines,” said BP America Inc. Chairman and Pres. LaMar McKay, who followed the two federal officials. “There is a deep and solid resolve to contain this spill, to fight it offshore, to fight it at the shoreline, to clean it up, and to deal with the economic impact it has caused, and will cause.” He reiterated BP’s commitment as the incident’s responsibility to pay for cleaning up the spill and mitigating its economic and environmental impacts, and outlined several approaches to stopping the leaks on the gulf’s floor 5,000 ft below the surface.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), said he appreciated the response effort but continued to express concern that technology for controlling spills and blowouts at such depths is inadequate. “As I look at the response plan you were requested to file, it concerns blowouts at the surface and nothing in the plan that addresses the critical question of how to stop a leak 5,000 ft underwater,” he told McKay. “So as you look back at this and see that your company has been jolted, why wasn’t more done as more deepwater drilling was done to deal with the consequences of an accident that could occur at that depth?”

McKay replied: “This is a unique and unprecedented event. In the subsea, as you point out, there are no major regulations dealing with intervention plans. I think as we look at this accident, we’ll need to look at the kind of subsea intervention capability plan that could be available. I would like to say that the subsea intervention resources that have been brought to bear have been tremendous. We’ve got three deepwater rigs working simultaneously in this unprecedented situation.”

Lieberman also pressed Napolitano and Neffenger on government response capabilities for dealing with an subsea oil plume—reported to measure 10 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 300 ft thick in certain spots—he said reportedly was forming, as well as the possibility that the gulf’s currents could carry spilled crude significant distances.

Unverified, inaccurate
“First of all, we have to be careful right now about what is being assumed about the undersea plume,” Napolitano responded. “Obviously, we need to continue to watch the undersea plume that develops vs. the spill at and just below the surface. That process is being looked at by a consortium of government scientists. I think [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Administrator Jane Lubchenco responded very strongly to some of these early statements, which had not been verified and seem to be inaccurate.

“Secondly, EPA has approved the use of undersea dispersants,” she continued. “This is very novel, and it’s done in a very controlled way because each time we do something like that, you have to explore the kind of environmental tradeoffs that are being made. EPA has a very rigorous protocol for how that will be done and continuous monitoring that will happen. Those undersea dispersants are being injected, and have been injected over the last few days.”

Neffenger said the USCG is keeping an eye on the spill relative to the gulf’s loop current, and that NOAA has developed sophisticated models to project its possible path. “Right now, it’s about 40 or 50 miles south but we are preparing for potential impacts around the southern Florida coast,” he said. “I will say that the sort of oil which will be picked up in that current will be heavily weathered, and you’re likely to see things like tar balls form on the beaches which are relatively easier to manage and clean up. This is not a good thing. I think it will be a more manageable piece there than what we’re currently looking at out in the gulf.”

“We’re actually treating the loop current as if it was its own coastline,” Napolitano added. “If we were to see that the oil was really beginning to move toward the loop current, we would begin doing things in terms of booming and dispersant as if the loop current itself was a piece of the coast.”

Lieberman was not satisfied. “As we watch the company and the government try to desperately figure out how to close this well, we obviously have to conclude that people weren’t prepared to deal with this kind of problem,” he said. “As the company said quite honestly, it capped wells before, some perhaps with failure of the BOP, but never at this depth. So why shouldn’t I, the committee, or anyone else conclude that in fact we were not prepared, either the company or the permitting authorities, to deal with this kind of blowout of a deepwater well?”

Napolitano emphasized that the government is probably only about midway through this spill’s response, and that the emphasis remains on stopping it, containing it, and dealing with its environmental and economic impacts. Neffenger said that having to deal with leaks in 5,000 ft of water has made the response unusually challenging.

“The second complication is that you have maybe 5,000 ft of riser lying like spaghetti across the sea floor on which there are a number of different leaks,” he said. “That has complicated the nature of how to best approach it. Then there were questions about how much pressure there actually was. If you had that thing on the surface, I think you would have seen a much more rapid ability to come to a closure on it. I think it’s the distance below the surface that makes it so challenging.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

Related Articles

PHMSA proposes pipeline accident notification regulations

07/02/2015 The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed new federal oil and gas pipeline accident and notification regulations. ...

FourPoint Energy to acquire Anadarko basin assets from Chesapeake

07/02/2015 FourPoint Energy LLC, a privately owned Denver company, plans to acquire oil and gas assets from Chesapeake Energy Corp. subsidiaries Chesapeake Ex...

Puma Energy completes purchase of Murco’s UK refinery, terminals

07/02/2015 Singapore-based Puma Energy Group Pte. has completed its purchase of UK midstream and downstream assets from Murco Petroleum Ltd., a subsidiary of ...

BP to settle federal, state Deepwater Horizon claims for $18.7 billion

07/02/2015 BP Exploration & Production Inc. has agreed in principle to settle all federal and state claims arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon inciden...

MARKET WATCH: NYMEX oil prices plummet on crude inventory build, Iran deadline extension

07/02/2015 Oil prices plummeted more than $2/bbl July 1 to settle at a 2-month low on the New York market after a weekly government report showed the first ri...

API to issue recommended practice to address pipeline safety

07/01/2015 The American Petroleum Institute expects to issue a new recommended practice in another few weeks that addresses pipeline safety issues, but the tr...

Shell Midstream Partners takes interest in Poseidon oil pipeline

07/01/2015 Shell Midstream Partners LP has completed its acquisition of 36% equity interest in Poseidon Oil Pipeline Co. LLC from Equilon Enterprises LLC, a s...

MARKET WATCH: Oil prices decline as US crude inventories post first gain in 9 weeks

07/01/2015 Oil prices on July 1 surrendered much of their gains from the day before after the release of a government report showing the first rise in US crud...

FWS issues Shell letter of authorization on Chukchi Sea lease

07/01/2015 The US Fish & Wildlife Service issued Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. a letter of authorization (LOA) related to the potential disturbance of polar b...
White Papers

UAS Integration for Infrastructure: More than Just Flying

Oil and gas companies recognize the benefits that the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) c...

Solutions to Financial Distress Resulting from a Weak Oil and Gas Price Environment

The oil and gas industry is in the midst of a prolonged worldwide downturn in commodity prices. While ...
Sponsored by

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts


The Resilient Oilfield in the Internet of Things World

When Tue, Sep 22, 2015

As we hear about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, the oil and gas industry is questioning what is different than what is already being done. What is new?  Using sensors and connecting devices is nothing new to our mode of business and in many ways the industry exemplifies many principles of an industrial internet of things. How does the Internet of Things impact the oil and gas industry?

Prolific instrumentation and automation digitized the industry and has changed the approach to business models calling for a systems led approach.  Resilient Systems have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their central purpose.  A resilient system, such as Maximo, allows an asset intensive organization to leverage connected devices by merging real-time asset information with other critical asset information and using that information to create a more agile organization.  

Join this webcast, sponsored by IBM, to learn how about Internet of Things capabilities and resilient systems are impacting the landscape of the oil and gas industry.

register:WEBCAST



On Demand

Taking the Headache out of Fuel License and Exemption Certificates: How to Ensure Compliance

Tue, Aug 25, 2015

This webinar, brought to you by Avalara, will detail the challenges of tax document management, as well as recommend solutions for fuel suppliers. You will learn:

-    Why it’s critical to track business partner licenses and exemption documents
-    The four key business challenges of ensuring tax compliance through document management
-    Best practice business processes to minimize exposure to tax errors

register:WEBCAST


Driving Growth and Efficiency with Deep Insights into Operational Data

Wed, Aug 19, 2015

Capitalizing on today’s momentum in Oil & Gas requires operational excellence based on a clear view of what your business data is telling you. Which is why nearly half* of oil and gas companies have deployed SAP HANA or have it on their roadmap.

Join SAP and Red Hat to learn more about using data to drive process improvements and identify new opportunities with the SAP HANA platform running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. This webinar will also show how your choice of infrastructure impacts the performance of core business applications and your ability to achieve data-driven insights quickly and reliably.

*48% use SAP, http://go.sap.com/solution/industry/oil-gas.html

register:WEBCAST


OGJ's Midyear Forecast 2015

Fri, Jul 10, 2015

This webcast is to be presented by OGJ Editor Bob Tippee and Senior Economic Editor Conglin Xu.  They will summarize the Midyear Forecast projections in key categories, note important changes from January’s forecasts, and examine reasons for the adjustments.

register:WEBCAST


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!

 

Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected