Marine Biology Expert Witness To Testify in BP Trial

British Petroleum expert witnesses will testify before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in an effort to lower the possible $13.7B fine as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP hopes to prove the damage was not as devastating as originally projected. Dr. John W. Tunnell Jr., marine biology expert at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, will testify regarding the spill’s impact on fish, shellfish and birds in the Gulf of Mexico. The marine biology expert witness is Associate Director and Endowed Chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science.

The Harte Research Institute website explains that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout was unprecedented not only because of the volume of oil that leaked from the well but also the location wehre the oil was escaping was almost a mile beneath the Gulf’s surface, “creating problems with which responders had never before been confronted….”

During all previous spills the oil rose to the surface and drifted with the wind so modern oil spill response equipment and techniques have been designed to deal with that scenario. However, in the case of Deepwater Horizon, plumes of oil drifted with currents at various depths, settled to the bottom or dispersed throughout the water column making the use of skimmer ships, floating booms and controlled burns less effective.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is working on updating regulations on Oil and Gas Production Safety Systems.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is proposing to amend and update current regulations regarding production systems and equipment that is used to collect and treat oil and gas from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leases. The proposed rule will address recent technological advances involving production safety systems, subsurface safety devices, safety device testing, and life cycle analysis. Production systems play a critical role in protecting personnel and the environment. This rule will help to reduce the number of production incidents resulting in oil spills, injuries and fatalities.

Background There are more than 3,000 facilities located on the OCS that are involved in the collection and treatment of oil and gas collected from oil and gas wells. These facilities range in size and scale from unmanned single well caissons to huge, manned deepwater facilities containing state of the art technology. All of the facilities contain equipment, sensing devices, and control systems to ensure that the oil and gas can be moved from the well to a pipeline in a safe and environmentally protective manner.

This proposed rule will revise 30 CFR 250 subpart H – Oil and Gas Production Safety Systems and make the first major changes to this section of the regulations since 1988. This regulatory action will ensure that the regulations are keeping pace with industry’s recent technological advancements, which often rely of the use of equipment that is located on the seabed. These new technologies are more complex than those that were traditionally used for shallow water drilling on shelf areas, where safety equipment was traditionally placed on the rig itself, rather than on the seafloor. With the shift to deeper water in the past decade, more specialized requirements and regulations are required for these newer and emerging safety technologies.