What are the ‘Systemic Risks’ in Offshore Oil Drilling?

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Maritime Accident, Maritime Injury, Offshore Accident, Oil and Gas Accident, Workplace Safety

Offshore oil drilling is an important part of energy production in the United States. Not only do oil rigs produce thousands of gallons of oil per day, but they also offer job opportunities for individuals in the maritime industry. In contrast to the benefits of offshore oil drilling are the potential risks. Offshore oil drilling presents many dangers to workers, the environment, wildlife, and the ecosystem near rigs and refineries.

On April 7, 2023, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass) offered a statement in regards to the 13-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the status of oil drilling safety in the years since. Senator Markey’s statement reads,

“It has been 13 years since one of the largest environmental disasters in history, and we still have much left to do before we can say the health and safety of coastal communities, marine life, and Gulf residents are protected from some of the same Big Oil practices that caused Deepwater Horizon. I led the effort in Congress to uncover the devastation of the explosion and spill. While some steps have been taken, lives, livelihoods and our environment are still at risk from Big Oil’s bare-bones safety culture. Congress failed to pass the necessary provisions to protect workers, close financial loopholes, and strengthen safety standards, but I will keep fighting to hold the oil industry accountable through Congress and regulatory actions.”

Senator Markey was influential in the months following the Deepwater Horizon incident, even meeting with response teams and communities that were affected by the disaster. He was the first Senator to Chair a Congressional hearing on the investigation of the cause and impact of the disaster. In the years since, he has continued to work diligently to improve safety measures and response measures in the oil and gas industry.

Senator Markey’s statement is a reminder of the systemic risks in the oil and gas industry. Risks that continue to pose a risk to the Gulf of Mexico, communities along the gulf, and the many worker in the maritime industry.

Deepwater Horizon is One Example of Disaster Potential

The Deepwater Horizon incident was an oil spill that occurred in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is considered to be one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. The incident was caused by a blowout of the Macondo well, which was being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by BP (British Petroleum).

The blowout was caused by a combination of factors, including the failure of the blowout preventer, a piece of equipment designed to prevent oil from flowing out of the well. The incident led to the deaths of 11 workers and the release of millions of barrels of oil into the ocean, causing significant environmental damage to the Gulf region. This oil spill was the largest marine oil spill in history, releasing an estimated 4.9 million barrels (210 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill caused extensive environmental damage, killing thousands of marine animals and harming coastal communities. The cleanup of the spill took several years and cost billions of dollars.

This incident – perhaps more than any other – highlighted the need for increased safety measures in the oil and gas industry, and led to significant changes in regulations and industry practices.

What is the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)?

The James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of legislation that determines the budget and policies for the United States Department of Defense (DOD) for the upcoming fiscal year. The NDAA covers a wide range of issues related to national security and defense, including military personnel, weapons systems, research and development, and other defense-related programs.

The Act is named after Senator James M. Inhofe, who served as the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time the legislation was enacted. The NDAA is typically introduced in the spring or early summer, and must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before being signed into law by the President. The Act is considered to be one of the most important pieces of legislation related to national defense and security.

What is the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022?

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 is a bill that was passed by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden on December 23, 2022. The bill authorizes $14.36 billion for the Coast Guard for fiscal year 2023. It also includes a number of provisions that are designed to improve the Coast Guard’s ability to carry out its missions, including:

    • Authorizing the construction of new cutters and aircraft;
    • Providing funding for research and development;
    • Increasing the Coast Guard’s presence in the Arctic;
    • Cracking down on illegal fishing;
    • And improving the Coast Guard’s ability to respond to natural disasters.

The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 is a significant piece of legislation that will help the Coast Guard to continue to protect the United States’ maritime interests.

What are the Most Significant Risks in Offshore Oil Drilling?

Offshore oil drilling involves significant risks, both to the environment and to human safety. Extracting oil from the seabed is a complex process that occurs in harsh environments and extreme weather. Some of the most significant risks associated with offshore oil drilling include:

Oil Spills

Accidents or equipment failures during offshore oil drilling can lead to oil spills that cause significant environmental damage, harm wildlife, and impact the livelihoods of people who rely on the affected areas for fishing and tourism. Oil spills have a profound impact on those who live, work, or vacation along U.S. coastlines. What’s more, oil spills have a wide reach, and can impact shorelines hundreds of miles away from the incident. These impacts include tremendous damage to wildlife and the ecosystem, as well as economic damage.

Blowouts and Explosions

The high-pressure conditions in offshore oil wells can result in blowouts and explosions that can cause loss of life, injuries, and significant damage to equipment and infrastructure. Oil drilling and refining often involves using toxic and flammable chemicals like hydrogen sulfide. Chemicals like this can ignite at just a spark, and can cause massive fires and explosions.

Seismic Activity

Offshore drilling can cause or exacerbate seismic activity, which can result in earthquakes or tsunamis that can cause damage to the drill rig, equipment, or infrastructure. The impact of earthquakes or tsunamis can also be felt a great distance away from the rig. It also impacts the ecosystem and nearby wildlife.

Hurricanes and Storms

Offshore drilling is often conducted in areas that are prone to hurricanes and other severe weather events, which can damage equipment, disrupt operations, and cause spills or other accidents. Additionally, the hazardous weather conditions also pose risks of injury and illness to those working onboard oil rigs or ships.

Climate Change

Offshore drilling contributes to climate change by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the oil and gas produced can further exacerbate climate change if burned.

As the above list highlights, the systemic risks associated with offshore oil drilling are quite significant. The hazards begin at the drill site and extend far out into the communities where workers live and those affected by incidents like the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Helping Workers Injured During Offshore Oil Drilling

Incidents like the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 are thankfully not incredibly common. However, everyday, workers on oil rigs are at risks for accidents and injuries that can be life-changing. Workers on oil rigs are at a constant risk for:

    • Slip and Fall Accidents
    • Broken Bones
    • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
    • Crush Injuries
    • Chemical Burns
    • Repetitive Use Injuries
    • Toxic Chemical Exposure
    • Hypothermia
  • Drowning

While the media does not publicize these incidents in the same manner as more significant accidents and injuries, for those injured and their families, these injuries can be catastrophic. That’s why Kherkher Garcia, LLP is passionate about helping injured maritime workers understand and protect their rights.

Contact Our Petrochemical Injury Lawyers

At Kherkher Garcia, our petrochemical injury lawyers help maritime workers pursue compensation for accidents, injuries, and illnesses sustained while working on offshore oil rigs. Our lawyers know how to thoroughly assess your situation and help you find the best options for recovery. In our 30-plus years of experience, we have helped numerous clients with maritime injury claims. We have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of our clients.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you recover after an offshore injury. Call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our website form to get started with your free consultation.


Schedule a free Consultation

Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

Learn moreRead more articles