web analytics

Brownlee concerned about safety? Yeah right.

Written By: - Date published: 11:30 am, June 22nd, 2010 - 14 comments
Categories: Mining - Tags: , , ,

The New York Times has a excellent article on the failure of the last line of defense on the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. But at least the US has some rules about safety requirements – we don’t. It appears that we have Brownlee and the now notorious Ministry for Economic Development* looking at our regulatory framework for guarding our environment.

On 5 May, the New Zealand Herald quoted Brownlee saying:

“New Zealand has very high environmental standards and particularly, safety requirements. Just what happened in the Gulf at the moment seems somewhat unclear and I think the whole of the oil producing world will be wanting to find out exactly what went wrong to make sure that if it was something that can be mitigated against, that’s what happens.”

From the NYT:-

Its very name — the blind shear ram — suggested its blunt purpose. When all else failed, if the crew of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig lost control of a well, if a dreaded blowout came, the blind shear ram’s two tough blades were poised to slice through the drill pipe, seal the well and save the day. Everything else could go wrong, just so long as ‘the pinchers’ went right. All it took was one mighty stroke.

On the night of April 20, minutes after an enormous blowout ripped through the Deepwater Horizon, the rig’s desperate crew pinned all hope on this last line of defense.

But the line did not hold.

An examination by The New York Times highlights the chasm between the oil industry’s assertions about the reliability of its blowout preventers and a more complex reality. It reveals that the federal agency charged with regulating offshore drilling, the Minerals Management Service, repeatedly declined to act on advice from its own experts on how it could minimize the risk of a blind shear ram failure.

This article is well worth reading bearing in mind the vast tracts of deep sea that this government is attempting to open up for off-shore oil exploration with tax incentives and what looks like an incredibly  lax regulatory framework. The failures in the Gulf were partially technical – especially with single points of failure on safety devices.

But the main problem with the Deepwater Horizon and other rigs appears to have been exacerbated by a lax enforcement of a regulatory framework about the safety mechanisms that were designed to prevent this type of ecological disaster. Quite simply, even if everything had worked correctly, there was a significant chance that the mechanisms would have been incapable of cutting and sealing the pipe.

In 1990, a blind shear ram could not snuff out a major blowout on a rig off Texas. It cut the pipe, but investigators found that the sealing mechanism was damaged. And in 1997, a blind shear ram was unable to slice through a thick joint connecting two sections of drill pipe during a blowout of a deep oil and gas well off the Louisiana coast. Even now, despite advances in technology, it is virtually impossible for a blind shear ram to slice through these joints. In an emergency, there is no time for a driller to make sure the ram’s blades are clear of these joints, which can make up almost 10 percent of the drill pipe’s length.

It will be worth reading this article to compare it with whatever measures Gerry Brownlee comes up with in his ‘review’ of safety measures for off-shore drilling here. As the coasts of Louisiana through to Texas are now showing, a single failure can cause immense amounts of damage to both the ecology and the economics of vast areas.

Brownlee is known for his dubious, lackadaisical and distinctly non-rigorous approach to economic and risk assessments towards mining and prospecting. This has been displayed in his recent promotion of on-shore mining using mining industry puff figures and virtually no intelligence. So any assurances he comes up with should be looked through closely in view of the data coming from the disaster in the US. After all assurances from the mining industries have a certain degree of self-interest, and with a compliant and pretty lazy minister in charge, you’d have to ask if the depth of investigation is going to be any more than a industry whitewash – eventually destroying coastlines, tourism, and fishing industries.

How lax is our regulatory environment for offshore rig failures? It is simply pathetic. As David Beatson pointed out at Pundit recently.

Maritime New Zealand is currently the core regulator of off-shore petroleum installations. Last week, MNZ environmental analyst Alison Lane said regulations in New Zealand require offshore rig operators to prove they have adequate emergency procedures in place during annual audits, but the rules do not specify what systems are necessary.

Maritime New Zealand has just $12 million worth of oil spill recovery equipment and dispersing chemicals scattered in 20 locations around the country, and three 8.2 metre transportable oil recovery vessels hardly enough to cope with crude oil spewing out of a single malfunctioning deep water wellhead at a rate of up to 3 million litres a day.

As we can now see on a daily basis, deep water drilling is a risky business. New Zealand needs to do more than chant ‘drill, baby, drill’ and count on Brownlee’s Luck.

Of course, since Brownlee is the mining industries friend, one would kind of expect that any ‘review’ of the safety of oil rigs would be a bit of a farce. Just as it was in the US and even that the oil companies appear to have found onerous.

The NYT commented:-

Yet as the industry moves into deeper waters, it is pressing to reduce government-mandated testing of blowout preventers. BP and other oil companies helped finance a study early this year arguing that blowout preventer pressure tests conducted every 14 days should be stretched out to every 35 days. The industry estimated the change could save $193 million a year in lost productivity.

The study found that blowout preventers almost always passed the required government tests — there were only 62 failures out of nearly 90,000 tests conducted over several years — but it also raised questions about the effectiveness of these tests.

‘It is not possible,’ the study pointed out, ‘to completely simulate’ the actual conditions of deepwater wells.

Yeah right – this is from the country that damn near invented off-shore drilling and has probably the most experience of any country in how to manage it – unlike NZ.

New Zealand hardly seems to be in a good condition to have a blowout. The government earned slightly less than one billion NZ dollars from oil and gas revenues last year. BP has (with a bit of urging from Obama) just put aside a preliminary $30 billion US dollars to clean up the oil spill and compensate affected industries.

Perhaps Brownlee spend less time in chasing prospectors and should concentrate on getting the regulatory and inspection regimes up to scratch. The time to do this is before hunting for easy dollars. The cleanup left behind from a single point of failure could be a lot more expensive than we can afford.

But Brownlee is more known for his  bullheaded stupidity than his attention to detail. This is shown in how he is conducting the ‘review’, in a process that seems designed to come up with the optimistic conclusions he ins interested in. With Brownlee and the MED conducting this review of safety, I suspect that the least risky option is to leave the oil in the ground and wait until we get someone competent to conduct the review of drilling and pumping safety.

* Looking at the material from the MED over the last year has become an interesting exercise.  It has been showing strong signs of ministerial abuse with inadequate and sloppy material in several areas (including mining). In fact it is showing the characteristic signs of an organization being run by Management by Tantrum techniques. It is one of the more stupid managerial techniques favored by those more interested in being seen to be working than actually doing the work.

Apparently this style is characteristic of Brownlees. He either completely ignoring specific policies or being all over it and wants everything to be complete immediately. Since that means he isn’t involved in the policy formation, it means he is always ill-prepared, so instead of blaming his own lack of attention – he blames others inside the organization. And I guess no one has told Brownlee the inevitable consequences of this type of abuse on an organization. People start telling you what you want to hear. Everything deteriorates until there is a colossal crash.

14 comments on “Brownlee concerned about safety? Yeah right. ”

  1. Pascal's bookie 1

    I’m sure Gerry will give the co’s the freedom to use Best Practice

  2. precious 2

    Brownlee is ignorant not only of safety, but more critically the looming oil crunch.

    Petrobas has the offshore license to drill near the East Coast. Mr Gabrielli, the CEO of Petrobras, gave a presentation in December 2009 in which he shows world oil capacity, including biofuels, peaking in 2010 due to oil capacity additions from new projects being unable to offset world oil decline rates. ( http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6169 ) He joins other oil CEO’s, Lloyds of London, the US military and a host of other experts pointing to an imminent oil crisis.

    Gabrielli states in his presentation that the world needs oil volumes the equivalent of one Saudi Arabia every two years to offset future world oil decline rates.

    Even if the safety and regulatory issues can be sorted (unlikely) and oil is actually found (even more unlikely) no oil will be flowing from the East Coast for 10 years. We will still pay the world price for any local oil found anyway so we do not escape the severe economic impacts of a world oil crunch.

    As much higher oil prices and fuel shortages loom, Brownlee and his ilk prepare us for this crisis by building more roads! “Bull headed stupidity” is too mild

  3. joe90 3

    Related but I don’t remember whether or not I’ve posted this.

    The REAL REASON behind the BP spill.

    • RedLogix 3.1

      The question of the ‘acoustic switch’ in essence a device to remotely trigger the BOP blind shear rams in the event both the rig control and the local deadman control had failed, would probably not have made any difference in this case. It seems that the BOP blind shears were triggered, but for so far unknown reasons one side of the pair failed to move.

      There is a very long list of failures associated with this disaster; the acoustic switch is not at the top of it.

  4. Brownlee is a complete waste of space as a politician, incompetent, brainless and lazy.
    He has been a leach of the public purse as a MP.

  5. Doug 5

    Once again industry overstates its competence. Lauded best practice is found inadequate again (I still have yet to see it), and the subsequent litigation is just a cost of doing business.

    They must daily thank the lucky stars for the short attention spans of the media and the public and our ability to adapt to declining enviornmental quality while accepting that it is just normal to live in every increasing filth. What Jared Diamond call creeping normalacy.

  6. tsmithfield 6

    Paradoxically, now is probably the safest time ever to start a deep water drilling project. A bit like going on holiday to Bali not long after the bombings. Drillers would be hyper-vigilant at the moment and would take absolutely every precaution to ensure that nothing goes wrong. The thought of going bankrupt as a result of incompetence is a strong incentive to be careful.

    • Pascal's bookie 6.1

      BP’s been bankrupted has it?

      The execs have had their last few years bonus’s clawed back have they?

      We got the legislative shit in place to ensure they would be bankrupted?

  7. RedLogix 7

    Yes that’s sort of true ts, but hypervigilance costs money… lots of it. And that changes the economics of deep sea drilling substantially. Think also insurance premimums or in the case of self-insuring as most big companies do, the change in risk profile the market prices into the business.

    And of course you’ve tangentially hit on the critical consequence of Mocando; that politically no-one can afford for another one to happen.

  8. Jenny 8


    I suspect that the least risky option is to leave the oil in the ground

    I agree, Yet in comments by Labour Party supporters on this site and even in a post by MartyG (though he admitted that Labour wouldn’t do it themselves) urged the Greens to oppose the S&F bill even though it gives local tangata whenua, (iwi), the power to give the order, literally, “to leave the oil in the ground.”

    In another post on the same issue Marty went on tosay that Maori will pervert the power of a veto over exploitation of the marine environment into a money making racket.


    The veto power and mineral rights will be used to extract rents from businesses.

    What do you think?

    • lprent 8.1

      I don’t trust iwi organizations all that much either. They have come a long way from the early debacles in terms of the iwi management (some of the earlier decisions that some made about investments were rather astonishing). Fewer of them have failed (effectively gone bankrupt) than I was predicting in the early 80’s whilst supporting the initial tentative Waitangi tribunal process. But I still don’t trust their decision making processes any more than I do for other corporations. They operate in the interests of their stakeholders, the same as every other corporate.

      I’m afraid that I support having the state control of assets and processes that support us all. Surely you’ve seen some of my comments on the sensitivity of coastal processes? Look them up. I did an earth sciences degree and I’m acutely aware of how easy it is to cause large and widespread damage from ill-considered decisions. I haven’t noticed that Maori organizations were any less susceptible to making crappy decisions myself. If the state controls it, then at least the perpetrators of abuses of the environment were directly voted by us and are accountable to us.

      But that is me. You’d have to ask each Labour supporter (and I’m not sure that Marty is one) what their position is. It is not a doctrinaire party and tolerates a very wide range of opinions. Mine is well to the ‘right’ of the party norms on many things, well to the ‘left’ on others, and well to the ‘green’ on others.

      BTW: If you look closely at my post, I wasn’t opposing extracting oil and gas from offshore. I was opposing extracting it unsafely – which is what I think that Brownlee and NACT are heading towards.

  9. Jenny 9

    US government gets rolled by the oil companies over deep sea oil drilling moratorium.

    Well at least they don’t have to any native title to overcome, as they have in Canada and possibly soon New Zealand.

    Well maybe not if MartyG can convince the Greens to vote against it.

    Good luck with that buddy.

    US offshore drilling ban gets overturned

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Tokelau Language Week reminds us to stay united and strong
    Staying strong in the face of challenges and being true to our heritage and languages are key to preserving our cultural identity and wellbeing, is the focus of the 2020 Tokelau Language Week. Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, says this year’s theme, ‘Apoapo tau foe, i nā tāfea ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • NZ announces a third P-3 deployment in support of UN sanctions
    The Government has deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion (P-3) maritime patrol aircraft to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions imposing sanctions against North Korea, announced Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark. “New Zealand has long supported ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Pacific trade and development agreement a reality
    Pacific regional trade and development agreement PACER Plus will enter into force in 60 days now that the required eight countries have ratified it. Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker welcomed the announcement that the Cook Islands is the eighth nation to ratify this landmark agreement. “The agreement represents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Securing a pipeline of teachers
    The Government is changing its approach to teacher recruitment as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue, by boosting a range of initiatives to get more Kiwis into teaching. “When we came into Government, we were faced with a teacher supply crisis,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “Over the past three years, we ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Border exceptions for a small number of international students with visas
    The Government has established a new category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies, in the latest set of border exceptions. “The health, safety and wellbeing of people in New Zealand remains the Government’s top priority. Tight border restrictions remain ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed
    The Government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand, say Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Health Minister Chris Hipkins. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • International statement – End-to-end encryption and public safety
    We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security.  It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ministry of Defence Biodefence Assessment released
    The Ministry of Defence has today released a Defence Assessment examining Defence’s role across the spectrum of biological hazards and threats facing New Zealand. Biodefence: Preparing for a New Era of Biological Hazards and Threats looks at how the NZDF supports other agencies’ biodefence activities, and considers the context of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020
    New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020 Hon David Parker’s response following Thomas Piketty and Esther Duflo. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, wherever in the world you might be. I first acknowledge the excellent thought provoking speeches of Thomas Piketty and Esther ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Kaipara Moana restoration takes next step
    A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed today at Waihāua Marae between the Crown, local iwi and councils to protect, restore and enhance the mauri of Kaipara Moana in Northland. Environment Minister David Parker signed the document on behalf of the Crown along with representatives from Ngā Maunga Whakahī, Ngāti ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • New Zealand and Uruguay unite on reducing livestock production emissions
    Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Uruguayan Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Carlos María Uriarte have welcomed the launch of a three-year project that will underpin sustainable livestock production in Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica.  The project called ‘Innovation for pasture management’ is led by Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • 3100 jobs created through marae upgrades
    Hundreds of marae throughout the country will be upgraded through investments from the Provincial Growth Fund’s refocused post COVID-19 funding to create jobs and put money into the pockets of local tradespeople and businesses, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced. “A total ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Health volunteers recognised in annual awards
    Health Minister Chris Hipkins has announced 9 teams and 14 individuals are the recipients of this year’s Minister of Health Volunteer Awards.  “The health volunteer awards celebrate and recognise the thousands of dedicated health sector volunteers who give many hours of their time to help other New Zealanders,” Mr Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Community COVID-19 Fund supports Pacific recovery
    The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says a total of 264 groups and individuals have successfully applied for the Pacific Aotearoa Community COVID-19 Recovery Fund, that will support Pacific communities drive their own COVID-19 recovery strategies, initiatives, and actions. “I am keen to see this Fund support Pacific ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Community benefits from Māori apprenticeships
    Up to 50 Māori apprentices in Wellington will receive paid training to build houses for their local communities, thanks to a $2.75 million investment from the Māori Trades and Training Fund, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Ngāti Toa Rangatira Incorporated to provide its Ngā Kaimahi ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Training fund supports Māori jobseekers
    Rapidly growing sectors will benefit from a $990,000 Māori Trades and Training Fund investment which will see Wellington jobseekers supported into work, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Sapphire Consultants Ltd. to help up to 45 Māori jobseekers into paid training initiatives over two years through ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Ruakura Inland Port development vital infrastructure for Waikato
    The Government is investing $40 million to develop an inland port at Ruakura which will become a freight super-hub and a future business, research and residential development for the Waikato, Urban Development and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today. The funding has been has ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Appointments made to Defence Expert Review Group
    Defence Minister Ron Mark announced today the establishment of an Expert Review Group to review a number of aspects of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) structure, information management and record-keeping processes.  The Expert Review Group’s work arises out of the first recommendation from the Report of the Government’s Inquiry ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • No active community cases of COVID-19
    There are no active community cases of COVID-19 remaining in the country after the last people from the recent outbreak have recovered from the virus, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “This is a big milestone. New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus. The systems ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago