With the well finally capped in the Gulf of Mexico and oil no longer gushing, oil and gas companies had ramped up their lobbying against new regulations. Even when the well was still gushing thousands of barrels a day, they claimed new regulations weren’t necessary, but capping the well, they believed, would help them make their case. They figured lawmakers would quickly forget the disaster.
But yesterday, another rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. There are significant differences in the two fires: no workers were killed; Mariner Energy’s well was in shallow water; and, so far, no oil appears to be spilling into the Gulf. Still, the explosion fire was a bit of bad timing for oil companies. From the WSJ:
But the towering column of smoke in the Gulf, 245 miles from where the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, provoked an outcry from environmental groups and politicians in Washington already skeptical of offshore drilling.
And it complicated the energy industry’s effort to portray BP PLC’s massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill as a fluke that shouldn’t have provoked a drilling moratorium, some energy experts said.
Kevin Book, managing director of research at ClearView Energy Partners LLC, a consulting firm with many energy clients, said that another accident in the Gulf, albeit minor compared with the April blowout, could prompt the Democratic Congress to push for greater changes.
Certain lawmakers’ perceptions “that oil and gas production is safe is not affirmed by this disaster,” he said. “And worse, the idea that regulation is adequate is definitely not affirmed.”
The fact of the matter is that rigs catch fire and spew oil frequently, without news media attention to the accidents. Oil companies have operated for decades with little regard for the environment:
Fires aren’t uncommon offshore, especially at older platforms like Mariner’s, said Ray Kizer, an analyst at energy consultancy IHS. Mariner took over the platform, known as Vermilion 380-A, several years ago, but it has been operating for three decades.
The platform has a history of maintenance and repair issues, according to federal records. Government inspectors found an unusually high number of serious problems aboard the platform in both 2004 and 2005, and the facility was later damaged by Hurricane Ike.
And a Republican Congress is unlikely to ramp up regulations. So, we expect more oil rig disasters.