GAO: Time Frame for Containment Responses in Spill Drills Needed

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a February report recommended that the U.S. Department of the Interior document a time frame for incorporating well containment response scenarios into unannounced spill drills.

Until Interior establishes a time frame for incorporating subsea well containment scenarios into spill drills, "there is limited assurance that operators drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or other areas will be prepared to respond to a subsea well blowout," GAO commented.

The Interior Department has strengthened its oversight of the oil and gas industry's ability to respond to a subsea well blowout, and industry has responded by improving well containment capabilities and creating dedicated well containment organizations, GAO said in the report.

"While Interior has not fully documented its well containment plan review process, Interior officials told us that they expect to have documentation in place by spring 2012," GAO noted.

The government agency also has not established a regular inspection process for well containment equipment listed in well containment plans, but Interior officials have informed the GAO that they are developing such a process and hope to have it in place by June.

The Interior Department does not have a documented process for monitoring the availability of equipment identified in operators' well containment plans, but does require operators to list multiple and redundant vessels and equipment in their well containment plans, which it believes sufficiently mitigates the risk if certain equipment is not available.

While redundant vessels and equipment are available in the Gulf of Mexico, this is not the case offshore Alaska, which the department will need to consider as it receives and evaluates Shell's plans to drill offshore Alaska.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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