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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill – Time to turn "Lessons Learned" into "Lessons Applied"

On Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released their joint investigative report on the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico waters off Louisiana.

In general, the report places most of the blame for the devastating event on BP, but it also finds fault with rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton. The report is made up of two volumes and a supplement: Volume I covers the areas under the jurisdiction of the Coast Guard; Volume II covers BOEMRE jurisdiction; and, a supplement to Volume I is the Final Action Memo from USCG Commandant Adm. Papp.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was formed on April 27, 2010, by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of the Interior to investigate the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, loss of life, and resulting oil spill, and to make recommendations for safe operations of future oil and gas activities on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The JIT held seven sessions of public hearings, received testimony from more than 80 witnesses and experts, and reviewed a large number of documents and exhibits pertaining to all aspects of the investigation.

Some of the more significant findings are in Volume II, where the JIT details evidence developed during the investigation and concludes that BP, Transocean and Halliburton’s conduct in connection with the Deepwater Horizon disaster violated a number of federal offshore safety regulations under BOEMRE’s jurisdiction. None of the results come as a surprise and reinforce findings from other groups, including the White House Oil Spill Commission and the Marshall’s Islands Maritime Administrator (Marshall Islands are flag state for the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig), that have been released in recent months. In the wake of this incident, BOEMRE has launched reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight. The reforms affect requirements for everything from well design and workplace safety to corporate accountability.

So what can we take away from the incident? What are the practical lessons that can prevent this from happening again?

There are a multitude of regulatory recommendations; but, I believe there are two key lessons – (1) NEVER skip established safety routines and protocols, and (2) ALWAYS address risk into your decision-making. When you get lazy in your good business practices and focus on bottom line profits as top priority, you will be doomed to similar disaster – perhaps not of the same scale.

Had these simple lessons been learned and followed at the corporate level and on the Deepwater Horizon rig, the families of 11 oil rig workers likely would not be without their loved ones today and millions of gallons of crude oil likely would not have spilled into the Gulf.

Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and there’s plenty of blame to go around – and perhaps the absence of a smoking gun or single bad actor to point the political finger of blame will relegate this story to the back pages of the news.

Forget the blame – fix the lazy business practices and turn lessons learned into lessons applied. But blame is much more fun than fixing problems.