Engineering Department Chair Named to National Offshore Drilling Safety Advisory Committee

Tad Patzek, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, has been appointed to a national advisory committee charged with providing guidance to the federal government on how to improve offshore drilling safety, well containment and spill response as the U.S. explores new energy frontiers.

The committee will also foster collaborative research and development, training and execution in this and other areas related to offshore energy safety.

The 15-member Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee brings together experts from around the world representing academia, federal agencies, the offshore oil and gas industry, national labs and various research organizations.

"This Safety Committee will help us address some of the most significant issues that will arise as offshore drilling moves forward," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. "We have brought together some of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the country to help ensure that safety standards, well containment capabilities and regulations never again fall behind drilling technology and practices."

The formation of the committee was spurred in part by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, 2010. The explosion of the rig, and subsequent spill, highlighted significant shortcomings in offshore drilling safety practices, the lack of preparedness on the part of industry to contain a deepwater blowout in a timely manner and the nation's reliance on outdated oil spill response equipment and procedures.

Following the spill, Patzek, widely regarded as an expert in the petroleum field, was asked by federal officials and national and international media to provide context and expertise on the spill, its cause and mitigation of its effects. He also briefed Congress on what he called a tragedy "at least 20 years in the making" because organizational structures and human behavior have not kept pace with the complex technologies engineers and scientists have created.

In the aftermath of the spill, many have recognized the need for more collaboration among government, industry and academia on issues related to offshore energy safety.

"It is a great honor for me to become a member of such a strong committee," Patzek said. "I hope that we will be able to separate fear from real risks, provide a better understanding of the risks and help the Department of the Interior to chart a reasonable, scientifically and socially sound course for future drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."

The creation of the Safety Committee was announced in January and nominations and recommendations were solicited. Appointments to the committee are two-year terms.

Former Sandia National Laboratory Director Tom Hunter, a key member of the scientific team assembled to assist with the containment and capping of the BP's Macondo well, was appointed chairman of the committee.

Committee representatives from the offshore industry are: Charlie Williams, chief scientist for Well Engineering and Production Technology, Shell Oil Company; Paul Siegele, president, Chevron's Energy Technology Company; Joseph Gebara, senior manager, structural engineer, Technip USA, Inc.; and Don Jacobsen, senior vice president-Operations, Noble Drilling Services Inc.

Committee members representing the academic community and non-governmental organizations are: Lois Epstein, Arctic program director, The Wilderness Society; Nancy Leveson, professor, System Safety and Process Safety, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Patzek; and Richard Sears, senior science and engineering adviser and chief scientist, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

Federal Government designees on the committee are: Walter Cruickshank, the deputy director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, Department of the Interior; Christopher Smith, deputy assistant secretary for oil and natural gas in the Office of Fossil Energy, Department of Energy; Captain Patrick Little, commanding officer, Marine Safety Center, U.S. Coast Guard; Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, Environmental Protection Agency; David Westerholm, director, Office of Response and Restoration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and Steve Hickman, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of the Interior Web site.