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Offshore drilling: industry rates its own equipment substandard

The technology used to extract oil from reservoirs in offshore drilling – particularly in deep water – has fallen behind engineers' ability to find and drill for that oil, raising safety concerns.

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Oil and gas escape from the top of the new containment cap at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 13. BP needed to essentially build the new cap from scratch after the original blowout preventer on the well failed on April 20.

BP/Reuters

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Even as it opposes the Obama administration moratorium on offshore drilling, the oil industry has doubts about the quality and long-term viability of equipment that it uses to extract oil from deep-water wells, such as the one at the center of the Gulf oil spill.

In arguing for a moratorium, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has said that "fundamental questions about deep-water safety" remain. The offshore industry counters that the amount of crude spilled and the number of spills hit a record low this past decade.

Yet both industry experts and managerial personnel acknowledge that the technology used to remove offshore oil from its reservoirs – particularly in deep water – has been outstripped by engineers' ability to find and drill for that oil.

That has left members of the oil industry dissatisfied with the tools they need to work in one of earth's most challenging environments. While there is no evidence yet that equipment was to blame for the Deepwater Horizon blowout, some industry experts say the quality of deep-water extraction technology is increasingly becoming a concern.

"We believe that the quality, reliability and adequacy of subsea equipment is a potential weak link in the deep-water equation going forward," said a recent report from EnergyPoint Research, an oil-industry marketing company in Houston.

Poor scores in industry survey

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