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Coast Guard inspectors: Offshore oil regulations outdated

By Mark Washburn

McClatchy Newspapers

KENNER, La. -- Regulations for offshore drilling rigs largely date to 1978 and have not kept pace with technological advances, Coast Guard inspectors told a federal inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon accident Wednesday.

"The pace of the technology has outrun the current regulations," Lt. Cmdr. Michael Odom told a board looking into the April 20 blast that left 11 dead and a runaway oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Odom, who inspected the Deepwater Horizon in July 2009, said the Coast Guard regulations date to an era when offshore drilling was closer to the coastline and not as industrially complex as now.

For example, he said, lifeboat regulations assume the average person aboard a rig weighs 165 pounds, a standard used in general commercial or cruise vessels factoring in the likelihood that children would be among those in the boat.

"In my opinion, it's completely inadequate," he told the panel. "Obviously they don't have children."

Safety drills aboard the Deepwater Horizon were routinely held Sundays between 10 a.m. and noon, rather than at a random time, which would add the element of surprise for crewmen. "It'd be more realistic if they'd catch the crew a little off-guard," he said.

Also, lifeboats are not lowered to the water during the drills because of the danger of an accident. He said putting the boats in the water would better prepare the crew.

In the Deepwater Horizon incident, lifeboats and rafts were launched, but some crewmen elected to jump off the burning rig into the fiery waters around the vessel. In all, 115 men were rescued.

Capt. Verne Gifford, a 23-year Coast Guard veteran, testified that the agency does not mandate inspections of things like dynamic positioning systems, which keep the floating rigs in place. Such devices weren't in use when the regulations had their last major overhaul three decades ago.

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