Deepwater drilling rebounds after BP spill & regulations

Deepwater drilling rebounds after BP spill & regulations

On the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill, deepwater activities in the Gulf of Mexico have rebounded despite new regulations that some in the industry complained were excessive.

"The deep water floating rigs cost on the order of $700 million apiece, and they rent for something like a million dollars a day," said Professor Eric Smith of Tulane's Energy Institute.

And because of the cost of doing business in the Gulf, when BP's deepwater Macondo blew, five years ago, it prompted the Obama Administration to impose a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf. That sent an industry that Louisiana depends on into a tailspin.

The nation's Interior Department also did some work on itself. The Minerals Management Service which was overseeing drilling at the time was criticized as being inept at regulating the industry, and it was ultimately with three different agencies.

Today the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) oversees exploration and environmental planning, while drilling safety and inspections fall under the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. The Office of Natural Resources handles the collection of offshore royalties for the federal government.

"The Department of Interior and the federal government in general have made important strides in the last five years to ensure that oil exploration and development is as safe as it can be," said Hopper.

In the spill's aftermath, regulators toughened drilling standards. And during a recent visit to New Orleans, BOEM's director insisted they have not closed the books on monitoring possible lingering effects of the mammoth spill.

"BOEM and the rest of your federal government remains very concerned and aware and thoughtful about the ongoing effects of that oil spill five years ago," said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper.

In Louisiana, memories of the moratorium remain fresh.

"The moratorium was lifted within six months. Unfortunately the aftereffects went on for another couple of years before we got back to the level of leasing and drilling and general activity that we had before the oil spill," said Smith.

Smith agreed that the Gulf activity is safer since the spill. But balancing safety regulations with industry needs can be tricky.

"There is always a tension with the regulation. How do we get just the safety we need, but don't cost the jobs that over-regulation creates?" said Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy during a recent visit to the city.

The Interior Department recently unveiled new proposed rules that would require operators of drilling activities to install blowout preventers that would have more backup systems. The BOP on BP's well failed its test. And all of the changes so far and complaints that followed, the deepwater drilling industry operating off of Louisiana's coast appears to have made a comeback.

"Matter of fact, we've got more rigs than we know what to do with right now," said Smith.

Smith said the future looks good.

"We'll continue to produce oil in the Gulf. I think that the baseline production in the gulf will continue just fine," said Smith.

However, he said shallow water production was hurt the most.

"The shallow water production, which was sort of on life support at the time of the spill, the spill sort of pushed it over the edge," said Smith.

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