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When All Hell Breaks Loose: Years After Deepwater Horizon, Offshore Drilling Hazards Persist

POGO: This is part one of a three-part investigation into offshore drilling safety. Read part two here. Read part three here. “They are known as the “last line of defense” against an offshore drilling blowout and uncontrolled spill. They are supposed to save the lives of oil workers and protect the environment. But, as the Trump Administration proposes weakening safety requirements for these critical defenses, a Project On Government Oversight investigation found that they are dangerously vulnerable to failure. In an emergency, the defenses known as “blowout preventers” are meant to choke off the flow of highly pressurized gas and oil rising through well pipes from deep beneath the ocean floor. It seems a stroke of luck—or a streak of luck—that disasters like Deepwater Horizon haven’t resulted more frequently. However, far from being fail-safe, blowout preventers have failed in myriad and often unpredictable ways. So have the people responsible for maintaining and operating them. Bolts mysteriously break. Seals leak. Components get clogged. Torrents of gas and sand rip through steel. Design defects surface years after devices are put to work. Inspectors allegedly cut corners on inspections. Energy companies falsify safety tests. Operating instructions that leave little margin for error collide with messy and overwhelming forces. One might take comfort in the fact that, since the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, when the blowout preventer on which BP was depending failed catastrophically, there has been no offshore drilling calamity of comparable scale…”

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