The oil industry, not the federal agency that regulates it, plays a crucial role in writing the safety and environmental rules for offshore drilling, a role that critics say reflects cozy ties between an industry and its regulators that need to be snapped.
To meet the world's boundless thirst for oil, drillers are searching in the sand and mud of remote western Canada, the tough shale rock of North Dakota and more than a mile under the seas off the southern U.S. coast, where a drilling accident has sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
Why are we going nearly to the ends of the earth and the bottom of the seas for oil?
Cutoff valves like the one that failed to stop the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster have repeatedly broken down at other wells in the years since federal regulators weakened testing requirements, according to an Associated Press investigation.
These steel monsters known as blowout preventers or BOPs — sometimes as big as a double-decker bus and weighing up to 640,000 pounds — guard the mouth of wells. They act as the last defense to choke off unintended releases, slamming a gushing pipe with up to 1 million pounds of force.
Since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico.
The waivers were granted despite President Barack Obama’s vow that his administration would launch a “relentless response effort” to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf. One of them was dated Friday — the day after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was temporarily halting offshore drilling.
In June 2000, the oil giant issued a "notice of default" to Transocean, the operator of the rig that blew up last month. The dispute was over problems with a blowout preventer, a set of iron slabs that should close out-of-control wells. It failed on the Gulf of Mexico rig, triggering the explosion and oil spill.
The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.
The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.
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