How safe are energy companies? And how well prepared are they in case of an emergency?
These questions will take centre stage again today as BP’s outgoing chief executive Tony Hayward appears in front of the UK’s energy select committee.
In the months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, the US regulatory agency overseeing the offshore industry was severely criticised for its lax inspection regime. Several serious failures on the Deepwater Horizon were found after the explosion, including dead batteries and insufficiently strong devices that could have shut off oil flow in case of an explosion.
The oil spill and resulting moratorium and tighter regulations on the oil and gas industry may now be a drag on the US gulf coast region, but analysts say the longer-term impact is likely to be new business. Indeed, several already see the need for their expertise in the region.
The failing of BP’s blowout preventer in the disaster has presented an opportunity for C. Mark Franklin, founder of Innovative Pressure Testing, which has developed equipment to validate blowout preventer tests. The current industry standard – the circulator chart recorder – dates back to 1902, he said. A lot of time, that “antiquated equipment” takes 30 minutes to an hour to perform, and at very high pressures, which creates a safety issue. He notes in an interview:
It was a good piece of technology that suited our industry fairly well until it was taken into deeper water, higher pressure systems.
His new technology, which is being evaluated by Royal Dutch Shell and others, can identify leaks within a few minutes. Mr Franklin established his company in 2009 and began to offer the commercial software in March of this year – a month before the spill. Nonetheless, he believes the spill will focus attention on “100 year-old technology” being used and help to make his product “the new standard”.