The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rick Steiner
(907) 360-4503;
Kirsten Stade
(202) 265-7337

BP Bucked Canada's Same Season Relief Well Policy

Citing Its Gulf Expertise, BP Argued Rapid Relief Well Capacity Is Needless Expense


Just days before the Deepwater Horizon blowout, BP pressed the
Canadian government to rescind its long-standing policy that all
exploratory wells must have "a relief well ready in case of a blowout,"
according to Canadian documents posted by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The absence of a ready relief well
in the Gulf of Mexico means that the Deepwater Horizon spill may
continue to gush unabated through August.

In its March 22,
2010 filing with Canada's National Energy Board, BP maintained that
rapid relief well capacity in the same season that the original well is
sunk "is not required and is problematical to BP" due to additional time
and expense. Citing extensive expertise gained in the Gulf of Mexico,
BP contended -

  • In the event of a blowout "it will always be
    preferable to re-establish and remain working with the existing well
    rather than initiating a relief well" (emphasis added); and
  • "BP
    recognizes that cost implications per se should not be a driving force
    in this review [but] additional certainty and clarity on dealing with
    the approach to well control generally, and relief wells in particular,
    are required now."

The Canadian "same season" (i.e.,
within 90 to 100 days) relief well policy was established in 1976 in
order "to significantly reduce the damage to the environment that would
result if an oil blowout continued to release oil throughout the...season
unchecked" according to a government report. That is precisely the
present predicament in the Gulf of Mexico where an array of tactics
short of a relief well have failed.

"Drilling a relief well
simultaneously with a deepwater exploratory well is one of a number of
safety measures that we should have been looking at," said PEER Board
Member Rick Steiner, a noted marine professor and conservationist who
tracked the Exxon Valdez spill. "Had the Deepwater Horizon had a
companion relief well along side, this blowout would have been killed
weeks ago, not months from now."

While many of BP's claims in
its March 2010 filing do not hold up well even in this recent hindsight,
one statement rang eerily on point:

"BP understands
that BP's privilege to operate depends on BP's maintaining the
confidence of the public and regulators, and that a blow-out - however
mitigated - could seriously undermine this confidence."

also posted a July 2007 paper by U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS)
staff which found that the U.S. has experienced 126 blowouts in
offshore rigs between 1971 and 2006, a rate of more than 3 1/2 such events
per year. While the paper noted some encouraging trends it concluded
that "The percentage of blowouts during or after the cementing
operations increased significantly during this period." The BP
Deepwater Horizon blowout also occurred during this phase.

MMS is counting more than three blowouts a year why didn't the BP Gulf
Spill Response Plan envision a deep water blowout as a possible
scenario?" asked PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who has voiced
concern that merely breaking up MMS will not improve regulatory
outcomes. "Same season relief wells are one of a number of safety
measures undertaken by other countries that we should have been looking
at, and should seriously consider emulating. The U.S. likes to think
that it is always the most advanced but being number one in oil spills
is not anything to brag about."

BP urging Canada to rescind its relief well policy

the MMS blowouts paper

Look at the BP
Gulf Spill Response Plan failure to mention blowouts

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.