Deepwater drilling

The process of oil and gas exploration and production in depths of more than 500 feet, which brings with it a plethora of associated risks. There are essentially two kinds of mobile deepwater drilling rigs: semi-submersible drilling rigs and drillships. Drilling can also be performed from a fixed-position installation such as a floating spar (platform) or tension-leg platform.

There are approximately 600 deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling final Report to the President on the Deepwater Horizon: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling, released January 11 2011, offer a scathing critique of the offshore oil-drilling industry’s approach to safety and of the U.S. government’s systemic failure to ensure that safety. The Commission writes:

Investments in safety, containment, and response equipment and practices failed to keep pace with the rapid move into deepwater drilling. Absent major crises, and given the remarkable financial returns available from deepwater reserves, the business culture succumbed to a false sense of security. The Deepwater Horizon disaster exhibits the costs of a culture of complacency.

Although offshore drilling had been going on for decades, the 1970s drive to develop domestic energy supplies accelerated pursuit of oil under U.S. coastal waters. As companies became increasingly ambitious in their exploration, they moved into deeper water and more complex subsurface geology using more complicated drilling methods. “Those increased risks,” writes the Commission, “were not matched by greater, more sophisticated oversight.” The industry failed to “match its massive investments in oil and gas development and production with comparable investments in drilling safety and oil-spill containment technology and contingency response planning.” Government attempts to increase oversight, says the Commission, were “regularly and intensely resisted.”


A closer look at deep-water drilling: What is the extent, what are the risks, and how will a moratorium affect U.S. oil supplies? June 10, 2010 Jim Tankersley, Tribune Washington Bureau

The Deepwater Horizon Disaster’s Deep Roots January 31, 2011, Elizabeth Grossman, The Pump Handle, Science Blogs (in association with National Geographic)