The world depends on oil for energy. There are other sources, but crude oil currently supplies almost 40% of the energy used on the planet. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately three of every 10 gallons comes from under the sea. With more than a tenth of the world’s power needs met by offshore oil wells, it stands to reason that deep-water drilling is here to stay. There are environmental and employee safety concerns, but the industry is addressing those issues in several ways.
More efficient, innovative equipment, such as deepwater Gulf of Mexico completions, can reduce waste and increase safety. Responsive, agile companies like PRT Offshore are poised to make a difference by taking teams of people experienced in deep-water operations and tasking them with inventing new solutions to established issues. Other companies are designing more efficient well-capping devices and kits for use in the early stages of a mishap. Improvements to equipment transportation methods are streamlining the response process and shortening the timeline. Drilling machinery and the electronic components are becoming less susceptible to malfunction caused by high pressure and elevated temperatures.
Clean-up efforts tend to make the headlines but responsible companies have always focused on disaster prevention. Preventive measures, called pre-spill strategies, include making sure oil wells and rigs are designed appropriately for the quantities of oil anticipated. Equipment needs to be inspected frequently and maintained in top shape at all times. Workers must be well-trained in safety procedures and management must enforce adherence to those procedures. Best practices specify that when small incidents do occur, every effort is taken to stop it immediately. The industry has adopted a tiered response system designed to contain unintended oil releases to a small, local area so that very little damage to wildlife and surrounding areas will occur. Successful containment involves constant monitoring for leaks in pipelines, prompt repairs, capping underwater wells if necessary, and use of dispersant to minimize the effects of any oil that may have leaked into the surrounding waters. Developments in monitoring data, aerial mapping, wildlife determent and extreme weather response gear have increased the safety of deep-water drilling both for workers and for the environment.
Research and Development
The Department of Energy has become active in the research and development of America’s offshore drilling operations. Monitoring capabilities are enhanced with real-time information, which allows for more precise drilling. More accurate seafloor imaging and advanced salt layer detection has also proven helpful in deciding where to drill. Other measures include improved seismic scrutiny, hazard prediction and weather forecasting.