BP Blowout Shows Safety Systems Should Protect Workers, Environment First

July 2, 2010
“Safety systems should be designed to protect workers and the environment first, not exploration and production budgets,” according to congressional testimony by a conservation group that has worked on Gulf Coast restoration for more than three decades.

“The loss of 11 lives on the Deepwater Horizon was the tragic beginning of a series of losses that continue to mount, including the accelerated loss of wildlife and wetlands, the impacts on sport and commercial fishermen and their associated industries, and the loss of tourism,” testified Elgie Holstein, oil spill response coordinator for Environmental Defense Fund during a hearing on draft legislation, the Blowout Prevent Act, before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee.

“Yet wells in far deeper water have been drilled and will become commonplace in years to come,” added Holstein, formerly chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Energy and assistant secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Even wells that are not drilled in deep water may, depending on the geologic, geographic and environmental setting, present a risk to public and worker safety, the environment and the economy. This draft legislation is a good start to safe-guarding high-risk wells that are an increasing part of our domestic energy development.”

The Blowout Prevent Act would require regulations for “high-risk” wells, which are defined as “all offshore oil and gas wells and the subset of onshore wells that, under criteria established by the appropriate federal official, could lead to substantial harm to public health and safety and the environment in the event of a blowout.” Among other things, the bill’s regulations would include:

  • No drilling without demonstrated ability to prevent and contain leaks
  • Blowout preventer requirements
  • Ensuring safe wells and cementing
  • Independent technical advice and certification
  • Well control and blowout prevention inspectors

“We don't oppose offshore drilling,” concluded Holstein. “But America must accelerate its movement toward a clean energy future by enacting a clean energy and climate bill into law. Meanwhile, the industry must act now to rebuild public trust and confidence in its ability to conduct its activities safely and responsibly, and the government must demonstrate a renewed commitment to safeguarding the public’s natural resources and our economy.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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