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Macondo Well Blowout: Lessons for Improving Offshore Drilling Safety

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies have released a Marine Board report on the April 2010 Deepwater HORIZON tragedy. The December 2011 report can be found here:  http://bit.ly/zTLq7L

Findings of the report include:

  • "The lack of a strong safety culture resulting from a deficient overall systems approach to safety is evident in the multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout. Industrial management involved with the Macondo well-Deepwater HORIZON disaster failed to appreciate or plan for the safety challenges presented by the Macondo well." (Finding 5.1)
  • "The extent of training key personnel and decision makers both in industry and in regulatory agencies have been inconsistent with the complexities and risks of deepwater drilling." (Observation 5.5 and 6.2)
  • "Industry, BSEE, and other regulators should undertake efforts to expand significantly the formal education and training of personnel engaged in offshore drilling to support proper implementation of system safety." (Recommendations 5.3 and 6.23)
  • "The committee noted that the safe drilling of deepwater wells is inherently dependent on human decision making. Therefore, there is a critical need for adequately trained personnel." (Page 11)
  • "In the confusion of the evacuation, no complete muster (headcount) of personnel was conducted onboard the Deepwater HORIZON (USCG 2011). At least two of the four senior merchant marine officers expected to be most knowledgeable about coordinating a mass evacuation of the rig were not available to participate in the muster of in launching of either lifeboat, as they were carrying out other duties. Also, when fire and abandonment drills were conducted, the marine crew and the drill crew did not collectively participate because of drilling operations (USCG 2011)." (Page 61)

Chapter 6 (Regulatory Reform) provides a brief background and description of the Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) program as originated by the former federal agency, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). Prior to the Deepwater HORIZON tragedy, SEMS was a voluntarily program for the offshore industry and in October of 2010, BOEMRE made it compulsory for all offshore oil and gas operators.

BOEMRE described SEMS as a "...comprehensive management program for identifying, addressing, and managing operational safety hazards and impacts, with the goal of promoting both human safety and environmental protection."

While DCI applauds the use of SEMS, it should be noted that SEMS is a management tool only and does not specfically mandate specialized command and leadership training for command personnel at sea.

Given the recent release of the NAE/NRC's report on the tragedy, and the temptation to reduce training in this current economic downturn, we believe it is imperative that offshore companies require mandatory and specialized MEM training for their offshore command and command team personnel.