by Jim Nintzel
Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, lets us know that a shallow-water well is also leaking in the Gulf of Mexico—and that shallow-water drilling has its share of problems:
On May 6, 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed a partial moratorium on shallow and deepwater drilling in response to the April 20, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project. Interior defines “shallow-water drilling” as occurring in less than 500 feet of water and “deepwater drilling” as that which occurs in greater than 500 feet of water.
The moratorium was to last 30 days while Interior conducted a drilling safety review. On May, 28, 2010, the deepwater moratorium was expanded with great fanfare, and the shallow-water moratorium was quietly lifted without comment or explanation from Interior. Despite the announced 30-day safety review period, the Interior Department has produced any report or finding to justify its apparent conclusion that shallow-water drilling is safe.
Today it was revealed that Taylor Energy Company LLC’s shallow-water drilling operation, using Diamond Offshore’s Ocean Sarasota oil rig, has been leaking oil since at least April 30, 2010. That is just 10 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Taylor Energy has multiple drilling
operations in the Gulf of Mexico using the Ocean Sarasota, all in waters between 430 and 440 feet in depth.
“It is unbelievable and unacceptable for the Secretary of the Interior to lift the moratorium on shallow-water oil drilling right in the middle of a large shallow-water oil spill. If Ken Salazar did not know the oil spill had occurred, he is spectacularly incompetent. If he did know, he purposefully misled the public. Either way, he has utterly failed the American public and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
As it did BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project, the Minerals Management Service, under Salazar’s watch, approved the Taylor Energy drilling project with an exemption from environmental review.
“To this day, the Department of the Interior is allowing the MMS to exempt drilling projects from environmental review,” said Suckling. “If the Taylor Energy disaster doesn’t force an immediate change of policy, we can only conclude that the Department of the Interior is as fully controlled by the oil industry as MMS itself.”
More Information on the Dangers of Shallow-water Drilling
Contrary to the hand waving of the Interior Department, shallow-water drilling is very dangerous. Indeed, it has a worse blowout record than deepwater drilling.
1. The largest oil spill ever in North America — the Ixtoc 1 disaster — was from a well in just 160 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. The damaged rig spilled some 138 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over nine months in 1979 and 1980 before it was contained.
2. The largest oil spill globally in 2009 occurred in just 250 feet of water off the western coast of Australia. The Montara spill gushed oil for 10 weeks, making it Australia’s worst offshore-oil disaster.
3. A Mineral Management Service review of blowouts between 1992 and 2006 concluded that “most blowouts occurred during the drilling of wells in water depths of less than 500 ft.” The agency found one blowout per 362 wells drilled in 500 feet of water or less and just one blowout per 523 wells drilled in deeper waters. The same report also found that 56 percent of all blowouts — whether in deep or shallow waters — happened before the true vertical depth of the well bore depth reached 5,000 feet. The blowout in the Deepwater Horizon drill occurred at about 18,000 feet below sea level.
See MMS, 2007, “Absence of fatalities in blowouts encouraging in MMS study of OCS incidents 1992-2006.”
4. In May, 2010, Elmer Danenberger, a 38-year veteran of the Minerals Management Service, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that MMS data indicate “well control performance for deepwater drilling was significantly better than for shallow water operations.”
See Danenberger, 2010, “Congressional Testimony.”