Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Oil Leak Precedent 'Down Under'

As the Pensacola News Journal was editorially wringing its hands the other day over the Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster, it perspicaciously looked to recent precedent Down Under:
[L]ate last year, one of the most modern drilling rigs in the world blew out in the Timor Sea near Australia. Over the more than two months it took to plug the gushing leak, millions of gallons of oil had spread over thousands of miles of ocean.Well, proponents said, the rules they have to follow over there aren't as tight as the rules drillers have to follow here.

Better oversight makes for safer drilling, they said. A serious accident on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico is unlikely, and the potential for a big spill is small.Then, despite the better, safer rules and tougher oversight, another modern rig blew up last week just 52 miles off the coast of Louisiana. A spokesman for the company that owns the rig called it "one of the more advanced rigs out there."
Just a couple of months ago, another Florida newspaper was looking into the same oil spill precedent. "Could Oil Spill Disaster Happen in Fla?" the Orlando Sentinel wondered. "Aussie rig debacle offers lessons."

Both newspapers were referring to the Montara Oil Spill disaster which began last August and which wasn't contained until early November. The heavy leakage went on for almost three months!

The parallels are striking. As with the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil leak in the Timor Sea was initially reported by the petroleum corporation in charge as just a 'minor' spill.

A brief Reuters news report quoted company officials at the time as saying --
About 40 barrels of crude oil were leaked, along with an unspecified amount of condensate and natural gas from Montara, one of three oil and gas fields that the company is involved with in the southern Timor Sea, it said in a statement.

Chief Executive Anon Sirisaengtaksin told Reuters it would take time for the company to assess the situation and decide whether it would start commercial operations in November 2009 as planned.

"There is no environmental impact. We have measures to prevent that, and we will take specialists to look after it," he added.

Reality (you should not be surprised to learn) turned out quite otherwise from what the corporation's CEO claimed. Truth discourages profits, apparently. Such is the corporate culture today.

In reality, the Timor Sea well was leaking four to five thousand barrels a day. There, as satellite photos showed, the Montara oil leak soon grew to encompass an area equivalent to a whole province or state. Just as the ongoing Deepwater Horizon leak now is said to be as large as the island of Jamaica.

The Montara oil spill now "is considered one of Australia's worst oil disasters." There are differences between the two disasters, no doubt. But there also appear to be a great many similarities, from the apparent cause of an opening fire to the oil corporation's false assurances they were using all the latest in safety technology.

While it is too early to measure the long-term damage done by the Deepwater Horizon oil leak, it seems almost certain that the environmental consequences will be almost as devastating as in Australia.

The Australian government has yet to complete its investigative report, once promised for this month. But news reports suggest a deeply troubling, chronic opposition to safety by the oil company and inattention by Australia's regulatory oversight agency.

That echoes habitual complaints heard along the Gulf Coast for well over a decade that oil company opposition to safety rules, and less than rigorous MMS enforcement, has been endangering the public as well as drilling platform workers -- just as the Associated Press reported a week ago and the New York Times reiterated yesterday.

Yesterday, the Pubic Radio International news program "The World," heard on many educational radio stations, aired an enlightening discussion about the Montara situation with an Australian reporter who's been covering the story Down Under. You can hear the podcast by clicking here.

1 comment: said...

Thank you for your article, really effective piece of writing.