Preventable Disasters in the Offshore Oil Industry: From Piper Alpha to Deepwater Horizon</i

ArticleinNEW SOLUTIONS A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy 22(4):497-524 · January 2012with9 Reads
DOI: 10.2190/NS.22.4.h · Source: PubMed
This article compares two industrial disasters in the offshore oil industry, the explosion and fire on Piper Alpha off the coast of Scotland in 1988, the world's worst offshore disaster, and the blowout and explosions on Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It attempts to answer a simple question: Given the enormity of the first tragedy and the careful analysis of its circumstances and causes, why were the lessons of previous failure not learned by this globally organized industry, in the very heartland in the United States? The answer tells us much about the ability of corporate capital to configure regulatory regimes in its own interests and to do so in a manner that continues to threaten the safety and well-being of its employees and the wider environment.
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    Article · · Labour (Committee on Canadian Labour History)
  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last spring and summer has triggered a frantic search for more effective regulatory methods that would prevent such disasters. The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is under pressure to adopt the British "safety case" system, which requires the preparation of a facility-specific safety plan that is typically several hundred pages long. This regulatory scheme is described as a "goal oriented" approach that inculcates a "safety culture" within companies that operate offshore in the British portion of the North Sea because it overcomes a "box-ticking" mentality and constitutes "bottom up" implementation of safety measures. Safety cases are strictly confidential: only company officials, regulators and, in limited circumstances, worker representatives, are allowed to see the entire plan. This paper argues that the safety case approach should not come to America because this confidentiality and the risk levels tolerated by the British system conflict with the both the spirit and the letter of American law. British regulations allow the plans to be no more protective than preventing one in 1,000 worker deaths and require operators to spend no more than $1.5 million per life saved. These standards are far more lax than comparable American legal requirements. The use of quantitative risk assessment and cost benefit analysis within the plans means that they must be prepared by technical experts far removed from an oil rig, suggesting that safety cases are not "bottom up" vehicles for ensuring best operational practice. The U.S. now fields only 55-60 inspectors to cover 3,500 facilities in the Gulf. To be even minimally effective, a safety case regime would require increasing available overseers by orders of magnitude, a prospect that is unlikely given the political climate in Washington. Lastly, a British study of conditions in the North Sea suggest alarming neglect of the physical infrastructure that ensures safety, further undermining claims that the safety case system is as effective as its advocates claim.
    Article · Jan 2011 · Labour (Committee on Canadian Labour History)
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