10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Industry Says It's Better Prepared The offshore drilling industry now has equipment on standby to respond to a similar emergency. But critics says stronger regulation is still needed to prevent another massive oil spill.

10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Industry Says It's Better Prepared

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Ten years ago, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people, and oil gushed into the Gulf for almost three months. Today, offshore drilling is more regulated. But has enough been done to prevent another accident? Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: One of the biggest changes since the Deepwater Horizon accident is on the Gulf Coast near Corpus Christi, Texas.


BRADY: At the dockside facility of Marine Well Containment Company - with the wind blowing - CEO David Nickerson shows off five capping stacks, similar to the device that finally stopped crude flowing into the Gulf.

DAVID NICKERSON: Each one of them is about as tall as a two-story building. The heaviest one - the largest one that we have, which is over here, weighs almost as much as 40 full-sized SUVs.

BRADY: Nickerson says four big oil companies put up $1 billion to create the company in 2010. Six more joined since then. The company's only job is to respond to the next well blowout.

NICKERSON: When they gave us the word go, we can get offshore with the capping stack, hopefully get the well capped off within a matter of a week, right? So that's about 10 times faster than it took to shut off flow during Deepwater Horizon.

BRADY: If they can't stop the oil right away, there's a fleet of equipment to capture it, put it in tankers and bring it onshore.

NICKERSON: You know, 10 years ago, absolutely none of this existed. All of this has been built, you know, directly in response to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

BRADY: This is on the response side. There's also been changes to prevent an accident, including stricter regulations. The Obama administration created the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Director Scott Angelle recently offered members of Congress a positive view of what the bureau has accomplished.


SCOTT ANGELLE: We've made our regulation safer. When comparing the past six years of inspection data, we've increased the number of inspections by 26%, increased the number of inspections per facility by 86%, increased the number of inspectors by 12%.

BRADY: But before Angelle was a regulator of the offshore oil and gas industry, he was a cheerleader for it. Here he is as Louisiana's lieutenant governor at a rally praising the oil industry and taking this dig at the renewable energy business.


ANGELLE: America is not yet ready to get all of its fuel from the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees.


BRADY: Among those who want the U.S. to transition to cleaner energy more quickly is Diane Hoskins with the environmental group Oceana. She says under President Trump and Angelle, the bureau is too cozy with the industry it regulates.

DIANE HOSKINS: We've also seen the Trump administration rolling back some of the far too few safeguards that were put in place as a response to the BP Deepwater Horizon, rolling back things like key measures of the Well Control Rule.

BRADY: That complex rule was designed to prevent future blowouts and give drillers detailed requirements they must follow to safely drill in offshore well.

Erik Milito with the industry group National Ocean Industries Association argues that changes during the Trump administration strengthen, not weaken, safety.

ERIK MILITO: For the past 10 years, the industry has had a laserlike focus on improving and enhancing operations.

BRADY: Now the question is whether enough has been done. Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was the incident commander for the government's Deepwater Horizon response.

THAD ALLEN: I've gotten the question over the years, is it safe to drill? My answer is, that's not the question because there is no risk-free way to extract fossil fuels from the earth.

BRADY: Allen says it is safer now, but we won't know if regulators and the industry are adequately prepared until the next accident.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.


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