Possibly Faulty Blowout Preventers on 2,400 Gulf Rigs
Later this month, thousands of oil platforms on the United States coast will be subject to new regulations for reporting maintenance failure. Currently, oil rigs are not required to report equipment failure unless it meets certain conditions or affects environmental safety. In other words, rigs don’t have to report failing equipment until something terrible happens.
Thankfully, that will soon change. Under the new rules, oil rigs will not only have to report routine maintenance issues to regulators, but they will have to share information with competitors about failing equipment.
Such rules are arriving just in time. Recently, oil drilling platforms have been experiencing severe bolt failure in their blowout prevention systems. The bolts have been prone to corroding and snapping suddenly, and regulators don't know why.
(Blowout preventers, by the way, keep the platform from exploding and catastrophically harming the crew and the environment. Perhaps the still-recent memory of the Deepwater Horizon incident is driving regulators to action.)
Manufacturers have cited the following factors as possible causes for the failing bolts:
- The alloy is unsuitable for undersea conditions
- Overtightening of the bolts, causing structural weakness
- Unsuitable coating on the bolts, leading to corrosion
Regulators are responding to the bolt failures as quickly as possible. While no leaks or spills have resulted from the failures just yet, the sheer amount of broken bolts is calling for immediate intervention. Diamond Offshore Drilling Co. experienced three broken bolts in the second quarter of 2016 alone in three separate incidents.
The widespread nature of these failures is troubling too. Bolts from all three major blowout preventer manufacturers—General Electric, National Oilwell Varco, and Schlumberger Ltd.—are present on 2,400 rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and 23 off the California coast. Bolts from all three companies have been failing.
The Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the American Petroleum Institute (API) have already taken action. Regulators are hoping to create a suitable bolt replacement, oversee manufacturing and safety standards, and replace all potentially faulty bolts in 2017. At Arnold & Itkin, we applaud the safety efforts and regulatory revisions coming to oil rigs this year. We hope oil firms work to keep their crew members safe in the meantime.