Coast Guard harbored concerns about oil rigs

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor

By all measures, the Gulf of Mexico drilling rig disaster is without precedent, but not without prescience.

Former Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Peterman, now with Command Consulting Group, told Federal News Radio, the Deepwater Horizon event seems eerily familiar.

About three years ago, I was out on one of these mega-rigs and what I found was very interesting. This rig, built for about a billion dollars, was in very deep water. It was going to be operating in over a mile deep water and it was going to be servicing multiple wells under the surface. And what I found out was this rig was sitting idle because the piping systems that they had put in between the wells and this rig, they found, could not operate adequately at the depths and temperatures and pressures that they were finding. And they were going to let that rig sit idle for another year while they improved their technologies and… replace the piping systems so it was adequate.

Peterman said he also learned that getting to the oil left in the Gulf would take “cutting edge technology to be able to bring the oil out.” Since that was needed to get the oil out, similar advances would be needed to stop the flow and clean a spill in case of emergency.

What we’re seeing right now is the oil companies, with these cutting edge technologies and new places that they have to operate, they are developing, as they go, technologies not only to get the oil out of the ground, but to respond to emergencies as they go. And I think that we’re going to see over time that new technologies need to be developed because they’re not on hand to be able to respond to the whole column of water that has to be cleaned up in this type of emergency.

As for calls for a “spill czar” to be appointed because no one is in charge of coordinating the clean up efforts, Peterman said that’s a misperception the Coast Guard has anticipated as well.

Through exercises like the Spill of National Significance drills, said Peterman, “you learn that that’s going to happen with any big event where there’s strong emotions, a lot of ideas,” and that’s why there’s both an incident commander to take some of the flack off of the on scene commander.

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