WASHINGTON — BP and the oil industry drilling in the Gulf of Mexico lacked the proper safety attitude to handle the large risks of deepwater drilling, leading to the many bad decisions behind the nation's worst offshore spill, a panel of expert engineers said today.
More specifically, the industry needs to radically redesign the blowout preventers that are meant to be a last line of defense against runaway wells or else risk a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the National Academy of Engineering concluded.
Before the oil spill, both the industry and federal regulators had "misplaced trust" in the ability of those emergency devices to seal off wells and keep explosive oil and gas safely locked underground, the academy and the National Research Council said in a 136-page report on the disaster.
"There was a level of confidence on the part of the crew that if anything didn't work out right they could count on the blowout preventer," said Donald Winter, the former secretary of the Navy who headed the 15-member NAE committee that investigated the oil spill.
The experts do say drilling safety has improved in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We think it is indeed in fact a reasonable process to continue drilling at this point in time," Winter said at news conference. "But further improvements in safety can in fact be made and should be made."
Despite better safety practices, the experts worried that the improvements could fade without new steps. They pointed to NASA and how lessons the agency learned after the 1986 Challenger disaster eventually dimmed, leading to the 2003 Columbia disaster.