|In-situ burning of oil slicks during spill response operations in the Gulf of Mexico, June 22, 2010. Photo courtesy Dr. Oscar Garcia, Florida State University.|
...federal prosecutors will attempt to paint BP as a "rogue" operator that took unusual risks, to convince the judge that the spill resulted from gross negligence. BP, to defend itself, will likely claim that their operations, well design, and decisionmaking were not so unusual, and were consistent with industry-wide practices. To make that case BP will have to present lots of information about the offshore drilling industry as a whole, including the safety record, accidents and near-misses experienced by other companies that we never hear about. None of the official investigations of the BP / Deepwater Horizon spill looked at the industrywide record, leaving many of us wondering:
Just how risky is modern offshore drilling?Given Shell's serial blundering during their Arctic drilling program last year -- problems so severe they just announced today that they've scrapped the entire program for 2013 -- we have to wonder if BP is truly a "rogue" or if their level of risk-taking is more or less the norm throughout the offshore oil industry.
By the way, I'm somewhat dismayed at this statement yesterday by the Chairman and President of BP America, Lamar McKay, that suggests BP has a long way to go when it comes to establishing an effective safety culture:
I think that's a shared responsibility, to manage the safety and the risk. Sometimes contractors manage that risk. Sometimes we do. Most of the time it's a team effort.I'm not a risk-management expert but it's my understanding that this diffusion of responsibility, and unclear definition of authority, is exactly the kind of management muddle that leads to major system failures. In other words, somebody has to clearly be in charge at all times.
The second phase of the trial will determine how much oil spilled into Gulf waters, the key to determining how big a fine BP will pay and how much money will go toward Gulf restoration. That will pit lawyers against scientists. Place your bets.