What’s next for offshore?

March 24, 1989, and April 20, 2010 – two sad but important dates for the oil industry.

The former was when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground at Bligh Reef and spilled 11 million gals. of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. And for those of you who somehow missed it, the latter is when the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig exploded and began gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. (As WorkBoat went to press on May 13, an estimated four million gals. of oil had spilled and the leak had yet to be capped).

Predictably, the Valdez spill led to new regulations. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was designed to improve the nation’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills by expanding the federal government’s ability, and provide the money and resources necessary, to respond to oil spills. It also required the double hulling of all tankers and barges that carried oil and other hazardous cargoes in bulk. Though costly for operators, it provided a nice boost to many workboat-building shipyards.

The question now is what changes will come out of the April 20 disaster and how will they affect the industry. Will a more onerous “OPA 2010” result? This much is expected: There will be changes – more inspections, tighter rules for monitoring deepwater drilling safety systems, etc. – and it will cost more to drill, especially in deepwater/ultradeepwater.

However, as with OPA ’90 and shipyards, some of the changes may actually provide a boost to the workboat industry. One possible change already being bandied about in the hearings is a requirement that rigs have a permanent standby vessel on hand in case of future accidents.

The federal government must do all it can to prevent another Deepwater Horizon , and regulations to do just that must be written and put into effect. At the same time, regulators must also try to do so without choking off future development. It will be a very, very hard task, with criticism sure to come from drilling supporters and detractors alike.

“The bottom line is there is going to be some offsets and some gains,” industry analyst Allen Brooks told WorkBoat . “However, the longer this accident continues, the bigger the downside for this industry.”



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