Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Deepwater Horizon: Lessons for the Offshore

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

Deepwater Horizon: Lessons for the Offshore

Article excerpt


I. The role of conventions

II. The Deepwater Horizon facts

III. The role of the flag state

IV. The role of the classification society

V. Who is in charge of the mobile offshore drilling unit

VI. Differing methods of regulation

VII. The Arctic

VIII. Need for a convention?



Despite this predominantly industrial focus the activity takes place at sea. The unique nature of this industrial-marine endeavour, together with the constant evolution of new technology, has presented a challenge to agencies established to set standards and govern the design and activities of more traditional craft.... Despite the newness and diversity of the industry, one trend has become clear for both the participants and the regulators: offshore drilling has emerged as an industrial activity that takes place in the marine environment rather than as a marine activity undertaken for industrial purposes.'

This quotation from the Report of the Royal Commission on the Ocean Ranger Marine Disaster of 1982 still rings true today. The dynamic between the industrial and marine elements of the industry continues to be influential. In some respects, it is a confusing aspect of the regulation of this industry.

There are two other influences in the offshore industry, regulation by the coastal state in which the industry is carrying on business, and an umbrella of International Conventions which apply to the offshore. The influence of the coastal state is due to the fact that oil and gas operations involve a long-term commitment to carrying on business in proximity to a coastal state. Accordingly, the coastal state takes considerable interest in the way in which the activities are carried on, whether in its territorial waters, 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or beyond in the waters of an extended continental shelf.2 International conventions apply because of the maritime connection to the industry.

There are thus four interests at play in the offshore industry. The marine component is sensitive to the fact that the work takes place for the most part on ships.3 The industrial component is driven by the nature of the work, drilling a hole in the ground with a view to creating a production facility. The coastal state interest is in ensuring that the work is carried out safely with appropriate regard to benefits accruing to the coastal state. International conventions share subject matter relevancy to the activities of the offshore industry.

This paper examines the complexity of the regulatory regime governing the operation of offshore oil and gas drilling and production, using the Reports from the Deepwater Horizon4 as a starting point for the discussion. The paper criticizes the patchwork quilt of regulation and argues that as the industry becomes increasingly complex, better international regulation is required. The Arctic is also discussed in light of the Deepwater Horizon Reports.5

I. The role of conventions

Compared to the offshore industry, regulation of the marine industry has been straightforward and, in many cases, international reaction to disasters at sea has been swift. The Titanic sank in 1912 and by 1914 the first steps had been taken to put in place an international convention focussing on safety of life at sea.6 The 1978 sinking of the Amoco Cadiz resulted in the 1982 Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control,7 which is seen as one international attempt to better regulate flags of convenience due to the ability of a port to detain a vessel that it finds is not complying with international safety standards. The Paris MOU, SOLAS and other international conventions cast a very wide net over the worldwide marine industry. Its regulation is not focussed on a relationship with a coastal state.

The responses of the offshore industry to disasters have rarely taken place at the international level. There has been an absence of an enforceable international regime in the offshore industry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.