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Yet two years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, safety remains one of the overriding themes of this years mammoth trade show. It has gained prominence because of other spills in China and Brazil that have followed the one in the Gulf of Mexico.Safety – or at least the talk of it – seems to be everywhere at the Offshore Technology Conference. Three technical sessions and both luncheon speeches dealt with the topic on Monday alone. One seminar was titled “Deepwater Cementing: A Culture of Safety.” I must admit, I skipped that one.
What’s far more difficult to discern, though, is whether all the talk is doing much good. Safety, after all, is something that’s easily talked about. It is, in fact, the sort of topic that lends itself to seminar upon seminar – a ready made topic for unending discussion.
Implementing it, though, is far more difficult.
I only got to make a quick pass of the exhibit floor today, but much of the technology on display is designed to making drilling, and especially deepwater drilling, safer. That’s a good thing, but amid all the hardware is another lesson from the Deepwater Horizon disaster – technology alone won’t prevent another accident.
We can beef up standards for blowout preventers. We can make them bigger, make them able to resist greater pressures, but it still won’t replace the need for fundamental cultural changes that are the most effective tool for prevention.
For all the talk of safety around OTC, one presenter told me earlier, none of it is really revolutionary. Much of it, in other words, has been talked about before, perhaps even at this conference last year.
OTC, of course, isn’t the venue for industrywide soul-searching. It’s primarily a trade show, a place to make deals. Some of the sessions don’t require papers to be submitted, and even those that do don’t require them to be peer reviewed.
These can be dangerous times for offshore drilling, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Worldwide oil demand is increasing the push into ever deeper and more complex environments. As BP’s executive vice president, Bernard Looney, noted earlier this morning, more rigs are moving back to the Gulf.The danger is that the industry may once again begin to rest on its laurels, to believe that its past safety record and some fancy new equipment is all it needs to prevent disaster.
With so much discussion of safety, the industry’s intent seems more than just paying lip-service to tragedy in hopes that it will be forgotten. It’s encouraging to hear so many discussions, but it will be even more encouraging to see companies acting on their words.