Offshore drilling is done by rigs designed to remain steady in gulf and ocean waters. These specialized rigs drill wells and insert piping in water depths of 200 to 400 feet to bring oil and natural gas up to the surface, where it is then transported to the shore.
Offshore drilling can be be dangerous because of the sensitive marine environment in which it occurs. Personnel mistakes, equipment failure, operational malfunctions or natural phenomenon like tropical storms or hurricanes can all have dangerous impacts. Oil and hazardous waste releases can also impair marine life and habitats. However, there are standardized safety precautions for offshore drilling to prevent dangerous activities and impacts from occurring.
Personnel Mistakes and Equipment Failure
There are many opportunities for personnel mistakes during offshore drilling activities, including rotary drilling, well servicing and use of oil field explosives--as well as during equipment repair, maintenance and construction. Personnel mistakes result in injuries to personnel and oil releases to the marine environment.
Offshore drilling rigs and wells operated on platforms in the ocean involve many equipment components that require regular inspections and maintenance. Specific safety equipment features that need proper maintenance include blowout preventors (BOPs), drill fluid conditioning and cleaning systems, and casing and tubing operations
Spills and releases can occur in any step along the way of the drilling and piping process if proper procedures are not followed. And even with proper operational procedures, every well drilled produces large quantities of mud contaminated with mercury and lead, which is disposed of in the ocean.
Once specific operational malfunction is when high-pressure testing operations fail, resulting in a blowout. The natural pressure forces oil, gas and other wellbore fluids uncontrollably into the marine environment.
A tropical storm or hurricane can damage rigs (especially those constructed prior to the 1990s when safer construction practices were instituted) and move platforms great distances, releasing greater quantities of oil and dispersing oil over wider geographic areas. Storm events are high-risk, low-probability events but do create dangerous scenarios because safety precautions are hindered during the event.
Personnel safety for offshore drilling endeavors includes proper training in compliance with OSHA and American Petroleum Institute standards. Standards are provided specifically for operations on ocean platforms and for personnel, who generally work and live on the platform for two weeks and then must be transported back to shore. Standard operating procedures for offshore drilling also compensate for the marine environment and seafaring qualities of equipment and processes.
Continual and consistent review of personnel safety procedures and proper operation and maintenance of equipment can decrease oil spills and improve productivity.
Offshore Drilling Dangers
Offshore drilling provides 24 percent of U.S. oil and 25 percent of U.S. gas supply, buffering national security by decreasing imports, but not without risks. Offshore drilling can produce anoxic conditions through the release of oil and hazardous materials, killing marine life and damaging habitats. Long-term cumulative impacts of offshore drilling on marine environments indicate species declines and habitat destruction. It is theorized, however, that once offshore drilling and associated oil spills cease in a location, natural recovery will take place.