The role of professionals in managing technological hazards

The Montara blowout

Authored by: Jan Hayes

Routledge International Handbook of Social and Environmental Change

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782791
eBook ISBN: 9780203814550
Adobe ISBN: 9781136707995


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In 2011, three of the five largest companies in the world (based on revenue) were publicly owned oil companies – Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil and BP (Fortune n.d.). Another three – Chevron, Total and ConocoPhillips – made the top twenty. The oil industry’s safety record is more or less consistent with broad industrial sector performance, but the environmental and social impacts of accidents, when they do occur, can be substantial. The history of the offshore oil and gas sector, in particular, has been punctuated by a series of major disasters. In 1980, the Alexander Kielland drilling rig capsized off the coast of Norway, causing 123 fatalities. The Ocean Ranger drilling rig sank off the Canadian coast in 1982 with 84 fatalities, and when the Piper Alpha production platform off the UK coast was destroyed by fire in 1987, 167 lives were lost. The 2010 blowout from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, working under contract to BP in the Gulf of Mexico, demonstrated yet again the hazards of offshore oil. In this case, the cloud of hydrocarbons flowing from the uncontrolled well ignited immediately, causing the deaths of eleven crew members and numerous injuries. The subsequent oil spill caused major environmental damage in areas of intense human activity. The financial cost to BP and its shareholders has been significant and is ongoing. The rig itself, destroyed in the disaster, cost $350 million to build in 2002 (National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling 2011: 2). Following the accident, BP established a $20 billion compensation fund and, as of August 2011, had paid out over $7 billion to individuals, businesses and government impacted by the oil spill (BP n.d.). Litigation is expected to continue for decades.

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