Software Problems May Have Led to Gulf Oil Spill

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BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20th off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 platform workers and causing the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Sadly, this tragedy might have been prevented had certain software problems been properly addressed.

According to an offshore oil-drilling safety expert who is pushing for a standardized alarm system in the offshore oil-drilling industry, failing software may have contributed to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Mishandled software alarms, untested software, frozen computer screens, and lack of data recorders for oilrigs are the weak links in the safety chain on deepwater rigs. At the Deepwater Horizon rig, the alarms had been turned off. The problem: some rigs have more than 2,700 system fault alarms. Drilling crews are often forced to address as many as five alarms per minute, and in rare cases, over 100 at a time—a virtually impossible task. Experts point to the need for better interface standards and software testing for oilrig technology.

As you can see, engineers, particularly software engineers, play a key role in the maintenance and safety of oilrigs. In this case, an "ounce of software prevention" might have prevented this disaster.

For more details on what may have contributed to the oil spill disaster, check out Computing Now's interview with Don Shafer, chief safety and technology officer with the Athens Group, an independent software-consulting firm that provides risk-mitigation services to the offshore oil-drilling industry.

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Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of published articles on health/fitness, "green" issues, TV/film entertainment, restaurant reviews and many other topics. As a former Andy/Belding/One Show ad agency copywriter, he also writes web content, ads, brochures, sales letters, mailers and scripts for national B2B and B2C clients.

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