Over the last decade significant deepwater oil and natural gas discoveries transformed the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) from a declining oil and gas province to one of world class stature. During this period, both government and industry have had to grapple with a number of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) issues that have arisen as more is learned about the deep waters of the GOM. This has been a learning experience for both parties. It is important that we benefit from this experience as we and others move forward with tapping the oil and gas riches of the deepwater, both in the United States (U.S.) and around the globe.
HSE issues cannot be separated from the economic/regulatory context in which oil and gas are developed. The goal should always be to accomplish HSE objectives in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. One lesson that has been learned from the U.S. experience is that wherever possible, it is beneficial to provide industry as broad an access as possible to promote a diversity of exploration strategies and technological development. The move in the early 80's away from targeting specific groups of outer continental shelf (OCS) blocks to be offered for lease to more open access, or what the U.S. calls area-wide leasing, set the stage for innovative companies to begin to test the new deepwater frontier. Having broad access also promotes economies of scale because an expanding infrastructure over time lowers the size of what constitutes an economic field by allowing smaller, otherwise marginal fields, to be produced in conjunction with existing development.
An HSE lesson learned from our early experience with GOM deepwater development is that there is tremendous value from collaboration between government, industry and the scientific community in the area of research and operational requirements. This is particularly true if it is found that the operating environment is totally different from what one is used to, and it is critical to be able to "think out of the box." Having parties work together helps ensure that there is buy-in at the end of the process and that the most efficient and effective solutions are adopted. For this approach to continue to be successful, industry needs to find the means and commitment to organize itself so that the government is not left to deal with many individual companies on major cross cutting issues. This ensures that any industry views represented are collective views rather than those of one company and that any financial burden for research or environmental analyses is equitably shared among the participants. The DeepStar Consortium in the U.S has been very effective in performing this role and it is hoped that there will be willingness on the part of industry to form similar groups in the future. To forge a consensus on technical issues, it is critical that individual companies continue to be willing to allow their technical staffs to participate on standard-setting bodies and research committees. The mega-mergers, together with the ongoing investor concern about corporate profitability, have the effect of making this more difficult as companies take a close look at the economic value of industry cooperative efforts.
The last point is that we cannot and should not look only within our own borders. There is tremendous benefit from collaboration between governments and between industry and governments working together on a global scale. Half of the remaining oil and gas resources are located offshore, and the demand for energy continues to grow. While each country may have unique societal demands that must be addressed, we also share many common technical and environmental challenges as we continue to explore the deep water. By working together we can find ways to lower costs while at the same time enhancing HSE performance. The DeepSpill experiment off the coast of Norway, the efforts of the International Regulators Forum and the ongoing work on international standards are excellent examples of global cooperation. We must recognize that if a serious accident were to occur any place in the world, public confidence in the ability of industry to operate safely would be undermined. We all should have an interest in finding ways to enhance HSE performance on a global basis to ensure that the hydrocarbon resources of the oceans can be tapped safely for the benefit of mankind. [READ MORE]