The federal government recently lifted the temporary ban on new deepwater drilling that it imposed following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the negative attention deepwater drilling has received since the disaster, BP's new CEO says the embattled company will continue to conduct extensive deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf and elsewhere.
Although unpopular, deepwater drilling may be essential to meeting U.S. energy needs. The federal Energy Information Administration estimates that most future increases in U.S. crude oil output will come from the Gulf, which already accounts for about 30 percent of U.S. oil production. The EIA expects deepwater wells (at depths greater than 1000 feet) and ultra-deepwater wells (depths greater than 5000 feet, the approximate depth of BP's Deepwater Horizon well) to account for much of this increase.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says that recently enacted safety requirements, which include changes to well design requirements, the use of drilling fluids, and the functionality and testing of blowout preventers (the failure of which seem to have caused the Deepwater Horizon accident), will ensure the safety of new wells. New rules also call for inspections by independent engineers at each stage of the drilling process.
But even with new safety regulations in place, working on an offshore oil rig remains a dangerous job. Between 2006 and 2009, there were 30 deaths and 1298 injuries on OCS (off continental shelf) oil rigs in the Gulf, as reported to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement.
Oil rig workers injured on the job - and the families of those killed - should be aware that Congress is currently considering bills that would amend the Jones Act and other U.S. maritime laws, particularly the Limitation of Liability Act and the Death on the High Seas Act. These laws were originally put in place to protect U.S. seamen when not covered by U.S. jurisdiction. Although helpful in their time, these laws have come under fire in light of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, because they may limit the liability of Transocean, the company which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Changes to the laws, which would greatly benefit anyone injured at sea, passed the House with widespread support this summer and are now being considered in the Senate. However, it is unknown whether the Senate will pass its version and reconcile it with the version passed by the House before the current lame duck session ends and a new Congressional session begins.