This pair of items will illustrate BP’s extraordinary confidence during its planning for the Macondo well. The first item consists of selected quotes from BP’s Initial Exploration Plan (Feb. 2009). The second item is a review of the recent presentation by two veteran drilling specialists from Shell. The primary purpose of their presentation was to contrast the differences between the way Shell designs its deepwater wells and the way BP designed the Macondo well. An underlying theme of both items is the fact that the various aspects of the BP plan were conducted under the oversight of senior industry administration and federal regulators.

1. BP’s Exploration Plan for Macondo well

BP’s Initial Exploration Plan for Mississippi Canyon Block 252 is a most remarkable document. This 53-page document is bursting with confidence (some might say, hubris).

BP began with a commitment to use “the best available and safest technologies (BAST)… as standard operating procedures” (p. 2-1). That said, the Plan then embarked on a lengthy list of the safeguards which BP viewed as unnecessary.

In the section entitled Blowout Scenario, the document states, “A scenario for a potential blowout… is not required…” (p. 2-1).

Section 7.0 is entitled Oil Spills Information. Apart from its brevity (barely a page), three statements are most remarkable.
With respect to Oil Spill Response Planning, the Plan states, [A] site-specific Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) is not required….”
Under Worst-Case Scenario Determination, it states, “I hereby certify that BP Exploration and Production Inc. has the capability to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge….”
Under Oil spill response discussion , it states that “a discussion of response to an oil spill… is not required….” (p. 7-1)

In the section entitled Environmental Mitigation Measures Information, the Plan states, “A description of the measures that would be taken to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impact to the marine and coastal environments and habitats, biota, and threatened and endangered species is not required for this plan” (p. 10-1).

Section 14.0 is entitled Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA).
With respect to Water Quality, the Plan states, “It is unlikely that an accidental oil spill release would occur from the proposed activities” (p. 14-3)
The section on Wetlands reads, “[D]ue to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected” (p. 14-6).
In response to Mitigation Measures, the Plan states, “No mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources” (p. 14-12).
As for Consultation, the document simply reads, “No agencies or persons were consulted regarding potential impacts associated with the proposed activities” (p. 14-12).

The Initial Exploration Plan (marked “Public Information copy”) is available here:

2. Planning for deepwater drilling: Shell vs BP

This 48-minute video covers the timely presentation made by two senior Shell officials at the Aspen Ideas Festival on July 9, 2010. Their presentation, “How will we drill for oil?” was presented as part of the Design and Sustainability track of the festival.

The primary presenter is Joe Leimkuhler, who is offshore well delivery manager for Shell Upstream America. John Hollowell is responsible for all Shell offshore oil and gas operations in the western hemisphere, and he also makes some astute observations.

Leimkuhler packs a great deal of information into his 25-minute presentation, which was followed by 23 minutes of questions & answers. Starting around the 13th minute, he embarks on a step-by-step description of how a deepwater well is drilled. At the 18th minute, Leimkuhler explains the risks inherent during the transition phase, which is when the Macondo blowout occurred. At the 20th minute, we see the slide which is the centerpiece of the presentation, a diagram of the differences between how Shell designs its wells, as contrasted with the full string design used on the Macondo well. This slide is re-examined during the question period (29 min).

During the question period, Hollowell describes five critical safety elements employed by Shell (32 min).

There is clearly a self-serving aspect to this presentation, which the presenters acknowledge with good humour. They do not see a blanket deep-water moratorium as fair, necessary or sensible, and want it removed. Furthermore, if Shell’s practices are indeed among the safest, then it is in both the corporate and the public interest for those details to be shared.

Thanks for Andrew Revkin at the New York Times for providing his timely article.

BP, Shell and the Design of Deep Wells