The US Chemical Safety Board is moving ahead with its investigation of the Macondo deepwater well blowout, explosion, and fire and expects to complete its final report in early 2013, it announced last week on the second anniversary of the incident. Initial findings indicate a need for companies and regulators to institute more rigorous incident prevention programs similar to those used overseas, it said.
CSB said its investigators have determined that process safety regulations and standards used by US oil companies in refineries and process plants have a stronger major incident prevention focus, are more rigorous, and apply to operators and key contractors alike.
“In our view, while previous investigations of the Macondo blowout have produced useful information and recommendations, important opportunities for change have not been fully addressed,” said CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso.
CSB noted that, to date, it has conducted numerous interviews, examined tens of thousands of documents from more than 15 companies and parties, gathered data from two phases of blowout preventer (BOP) testing, and conducted a public hearing on international regulatory approaches. It said it could release recommendations targeting specific reforms as early as August.
Don Holmstrom, manager of CSB’s western regional office in Denver, whose team is conducting the investigation, said the agency likely will hold the first of several public meetings in July. CSB anticipates releasing preliminary findings and safety recommendations at the meeting, and to hear experts testify on the need for the offshore drilling industry to use safety performance indicators like hydrocarbon leaks and maintenance of safety critical equipment to drive safety improvements and to prevent major incidents, according to Holmstrom.
Moure-Eraso said CSB’s investigation is taking a broad look at the Macondo blowout’s causes and hydrocarbon release prompting the subsequent explosion. “These issues include the manner in which the industry and the regulating agencies learn or did not learn from previous incidents. They also include a lack of human factors guidance, and organizational issues that impaired effective engineering decisions,” he said.
The issue of human factors in offshore drilling and well completion is particularly important as offshore well control programs currently rely to a large extent on manual control, procedures, and human intervention to control hazards, CSB Investigator Cheryl MacKenzie noted. “There are no human factors standards or regulations in US offshore drilling that focus on major accident prevention,” she said.
Transocean Ltd.’s workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig, who originally worked 14-day shifts, had been required to go to 21-day shifts, McKenzie continued. “CSB is examining whether this decision was assessed for its impact on safe operations,” she said.
In December 2010, a CSB public hearing in Washington featured international regulators, companies, trade associations and union representatives discussing the “safety case” regulatory approach for offshore safety, a concept widely used in the North Sea and Australia and supported by a number of the participants, he said.
The US Department of Justice has filed an action against Transocean in federal court and has requested that the court order Transocean to comply with the CSB subpoenas. Following an Apr. 11 hearing, the CSB anticipates a decision soon, CSB’s chairman said.
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