Improve oil spill prevention

Posted March 31, 2011, at 8:41 p.m.

A recent report provided much-needed answers about how a critical piece of equipment failed to avert an oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, it should be easier for the United States to push forward with a reasonable and responsible offshore drilling program.

The government-sponsored report said the blowout preventer at BP’s Macondo well malfunctioned because surging oil and gas mangled a drill pipe, and emergency shears weren’t able to fully sever the pipe.

It is a conclusion that suggests a relatively straightforward solution: Design a better blowout preventer.

To be sure, there were many other mistakes and problems that contributed to the disaster. We aren’t soft-pedaling the need for reasonably overhauled regulations on offshore drilling operations. However, had the blowout preventer — the last line of defense — functioned as designed, the worst oil spill in U.S. history would have been averted.

A forensic analysis of the massive set of valves, performed by a Norwegian company under contract to government investigators, suggested that the task may not be as simple as it might sound. The report raised serious questions as to whether the massive shears even are able to accomplish the task for which they are designed. That question must be answered before policymakers can focus on ensuring that a vastly improved blowout preventer becomes standard equipment on underwater wells.

Such a development is crucial to the continued offshore drilling that this country must pursue to support its energy needs.

The time has come to take on the issue, and we hope federal regulators will do so in a way that balances environmental protections and industry concerns.

The Denver Post (March 29)

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