Discussion Paper

Precursor Analysis for Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling: From Prescriptive to Risk-Informed Regulation

Jan 19, 2011 | Roger M. Cooke, Heather L. Ross, Adam Stern

Abstract

The Oil Spill Commission’s chartered mission—to “develop options to guard against … any oil spills associated with offshore drilling in the future” (National Commission 2010)—presents a major challenge: how to reduce the risk of low-frequency oil spill events, and especially high-consequence events like the Deepwater Horizon accident, when historical experience contains few oil spills of material scale and none approaching the significance of the Deepwater Horizon. In this paper, we consider precursor analysis as an answer to this challenge, addressing first its development and use in nuclear reactor regulation and then its applicability to offshore oil and gas drilling. We find that the nature of offshore drilling risks, the operating information obtainable by the regulator, and the learning curve provided by 30 years of nuclear experience make precursor analysis a promising option available to theU.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) to bring costeffective, risk-informed oversight to bear on the threat of catastrophic oil spills.