Top Interior officials, offshore drillers to meet in wake of latest accident

Senior offshore energy regulators plan to huddle with oil-and-gas industry officials soon to discuss drilling safety in shallow Gulf of Mexico waters, the Interior Department said.

The planned Houston meeting, which the department announced Friday afternoon, follows this week’s blowout of a natural gas well and rig fire about 55 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Jamed Watson, head of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), said the accident last Tuesday and other recent incidents “serve as a reminder that industry must rededicate its efforts to make safety its top priority, including in shallow water.”

Unlike the 2010 BP oil disaster that occurred in very deep waters, the blowout and fire at the Hercules Offshore, Inc. rig, which was working on a gas well owned by Walter Oil & Gas Corp., occurred in 154 feet of water.

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“In the coming days, [Interior] Acting Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management Tommy Beaudreau and Director Watson will travel to Houston to meet with senior executives from companies operating primarily in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico to discuss the need to remain focused on safety and risk reduction,” BSEE said Friday afternoon.

BSEE is investigating last week’s accident. The well is no longer leaking but efforts are ongoing to permanently secure it.

“BSEE has already initiated an investigation into the root causes of this incident, and our focus at this time remains on the ongoing response,” Watson, who met Thursday in Houston with officials from Hercules and Walter, said in a statement. 

“All of the workers aboard the platform were safely evacuated before the fire, but complex operations to completely secure the well will be ongoing over the coming weeks and those must be conducted safely and cautiously,” he said.