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Gulf Spill Is 'Black Swan' Event: Industry Insider

A top authority on oil reservoir management and upstream technology called the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a "Black Swan" event that, however catastrophic, has the potential to improve drilling practices in particular and the industry in general.

Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.
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Fire boats battle a fire at the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

“The heart and soul of the whole issue is that this is a Black Swan event,” Nansen Saleri, CEO of Quantum Reservoir Impactand a former executive at Saudi Aramco, told CNBC Wednesday.

“The whole industry missed the probability of such a traumatic event from happening. Now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s becoming very obvious that the safety systems in place and the contingency plans in place were not commensurate with the true risks. I think that’s the most valuable lesson of the whole tragic event.”

Saleri later said that it’s obvious that BP had no emergency planworked out beforehand and that the oil giantis improvising as it scrambles to deal with the leak and its many attendant problems.

“I believe in the short term, this [oil spill] is a wake-up call for the whole industry,” he added. “In the long run, it’s going to lead to new foundational forms, which is going to invigorate the entire industry.”

Saleri called the oil spill in 1969 in the Santa Barbara Channeloff the coast of California the last major US production disaster. As a result, he explained, the United States made changes and, until the BP spill on April 20, had a “stellar track record.” Saleri did not mention the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 off the coast of Alaska, which was due to a tanker crash.

He said the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water oil drilling “doesn’t solve anything,” but he thinks that common sense will prevail in that regard and that the United States will continue to be a viable oil producer.

To help solve the current problem, Saleri favors the appointment of an eminent scientist, who is nonpolitical.

“I think it’s incumbent on our industry, my industry, to get to the bottom of it with scientific and moral diligence,” he added, “and understand the real reasons, fix it and move forward.”