Musings: Offshore Industry: Waiting for Godot; Will He Ever Come?

The offshore oil and gas and oilfield service industries appear to be playing the roles of Vladimir and Estragon, the two lead characters in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The play deals with two days in the lives of these gentlemen who are awaiting the arrival of an acquaintance who they admit they hardly know and probably might not recognize when he arrives. Godot never does come, which forces the two men to fill their waiting time. While waiting they eat, sleep, talk, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide – anything "to hold the terrible silence at bay." It sure sounds like the actions of the domestic offshore industry both during and after the offshore deepwater drilling moratorium. 

Godot never does come, which forces the two men to fill their waiting time

The play was voted "the most significant English language play of the 20th century." It was written during the winter of 1948-1949 and had its initial performance in January 1953. It is often described as an absurdist play and its script has led to much discussion about the hidden meanings behind the storyline. One drama critic wrote about Mr. Beckett and his play that it "has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice." That description seems an appropriate characterization of the Gulf of Mexico offshore petroleum business for the past six months.

Last week, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling issued its long awaited report and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael Bromwich delivered a speech about the status of his bureau's operations, reorganization and new offshore rule promulgation efforts. The Commission's report has a number of worthy ideas about offshore regulation and operations that should be explored and discussed. The report also dismisses the positive historical drilling safety record of the offshore industry and characterizes its operations as suffering from a 'systemic' problem. The government's solution is to add additional layers of regulation to the industry's operations without fully determining the cause of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Macondo oil spill. (We have just received a copy of the full report and have not yet had time to read it all.)

Director Michael Bromwich delivered a speech about the status of his bureau's operations, reorganization and new offshore rule promulgation efforts

Dir. Bromwich's talk focused on the status of the reorganization efforts of the former Minerals Management Service (MMS). The new structure has created three separate organizations – one dealing with revenue collection, another with safety and the third focused on managing the development of the nation's offshore resources in an environmentally and economically responsible way. The reorganization was designed to reduce and eliminate the conflicting roles the MMS was trying to perform and to increase the professionalism of the department. 

In reading Dir. Bromwich's talk, there appeared to be little in the way of new information. Clearly during the question and answer time following the speech, at least according to the story reported by Dow Jones Newswire, Dir. Bromwich did offer some new information.  He said that the primary question he is asked when he talks with operators of offshore drilling rigs is when the pace of permit approval will return to what it was before the Macondo oil spill began on April 20, 2010. His response to that question is, "The honest answer is probably never." Given all the new rules and regulations now required of operators and rig owners, that response is probably quite accurate. That prospect, however, will certainly not boost the spirits of, nor help the planning by, the offshore industry. What may have been a shocker to the industry, however, was after he commented that new offshore drilling permits were coming he said, "I would be stunned if we waited until the third or fourth quarter."

After he commented that new offshore drilling permits were coming he said, "I would be stunned if we waited until the third or fourth quarter"

Many industry people held out hope this summer that once the deepwater drilling moratorium was lifted permits would begin to flow.  With the early termination of the deepwater drilling moratorium, it was anticipated that permits would be forthcoming quickly and that the industry would be drilling before the end of 2010. We are now well into January with no new deepwater drilling permits having been issued. Dir. Bromwich's comment about the third and fourth quarters has to be a jolt to the offshore industry. I am sure that had the issuing of new deepwater drilling permits been imminent, Dir. Bromwich would have telegraphed that somehow in his speech or in responses to questions. The increased likelihood that the industry may go for a full year following the Macondo accident without a new deepwater drilling permit will have a negative impact on Gulf of Mexico capital spending, rig and auxiliary offshore equipment employment and the nation's crude oil and natural gas supply in 2011 and likely 2012, too. Every day of further delay in granting permits increases the prospect of permanent damage to the domestic industry.

Should we begin passing out lengths of rope to the offshore industry?

In each act of Waiting for Godot the two characters contemplate suicide. The first time they decide not to follow through because possibly one of them might not die, leaving him alone, which they considered to be an intolerable situation. Instead, they decide to do nothing – "It's safer."

At the end of the play, when informed that Godot would not be coming that day but rather the next, they contemplate suicide again, but the rope that is used as a belt by one of them turns out to be too short. They resolve to bring a longer rope the next day and hang themselves if Godot doesn't show. Should we begin passing out lengths of rope to the offshore industry?

G. Allen Brooks works as the Managing Director at PPHB LP. Reprinted with permission of PPHB.

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