E&E News: U.S. Deepwater Drilling Reformer Bromwich Urges Global Coordination

April 12, 2012

Source: http://www.eenews.net/ew/
Joel Kirkland, E&E reporter

With the second anniversary of the BP PLC Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico coming up later this month, the director of a massive U.S. reform of deepwater drilling oversight said it should be extended globally.

“This is not a Gulf of Mexico issue. It’s not an Arctic issue. It’s a worldwide issue. There are more and more countries getting into the offshore game,” said Michael Bromwich, former director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which was spun off from the Interior Department’s troubled Minerals Management Service. “This really needs to be a more coordinated, international effort to try to enhance safety and environmental protection than it has been historically.”

Bromwich left Interior in December after having spent 18 months investigating gaps in government oversight that contributed to nearly 5 million gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf in 2010. With a temporary drilling moratorium in place, he led a major overhaul that sought to eliminate conflicts of interest that discouraged diligent oversight of oil companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters.

The price of oil is again at near record highs, drilling technology has continued to develop, and major oil producers are pursuing oil in energy-rich frontiers. While permitting is happening at a slower pace, drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters appears poised to increase. And Royal Dutch Shell PLC is gearing up to begin drilling in Alaska’s Arctic oil basins this summer.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projected deepwater oil finds will be an increasing slice of domestic oil production. Interior estimated in December that drilling in a 20-million-acre plot in the western half of the Gulf of Mexico could yield more than 400 million barrels of oil and 2.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Central to drilling going forward in the near term is a group of about 30 deepwater projects in various stages of development.

Speaking yesterday at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bromwich warned against complacency among U.S. policymakers. There’s more to lose than to gain by forgetting the lessons of BP’s spill, he said.

“My concern is that the funding now is better than it’s ever been, but as memories fade, as the second-year anniversary turns into the third and the fifth, the immediacy of the problem will recede,” he said, “and people will forget how important it is that regulatory agencies be strong and robust and that is in the long-term best interest of everyone.”