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BP is taking new steps to improve the reliability of the cement used to seal its wells and the fail-safe devices used to prevent blowouts, officials said late last week.

The U.S. government offered kudos for the voluntary measures, but also said it has already established strong safety and environmental standards all operators must meet in order to operate in deep waters.

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Eleven men died when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana April 20, 2010, leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. After almost three months, BP capped the well on July 15, 2010, and permanently sealed it from the bottom two months after that. The government estimates 206 million gallons of oil released by BP’s Macondo well a mile beneath the sea. BP has spent or committed tens of billions of dollars to clean up the devastation and to compensate victims.

BP said in the future, when drilling in the Gulf, it will:
• Require that one of its engineers or an independent third-party conduct lab testing of the cement used to seal its deepwater wells. It will provide the results to government officials.
• Require extra precautions be taken with blowout preventers used on rigs it leases to drill its wells. The measures involve using blowout preventers with extra shearing devices that would cut through drill pipe and seal a well in the event of a mishap.
• Include in its oil spill response plan information about enhanced response measures based on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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The cement and blowout preventer used with BP’s well and the oil spill response plan it employed during the disaster all came under fire in investigations of the disaster by the government and the companies involved.

New drilling rules are now in effect, officials built a high-tech system for capping a blown-out well and containing the oil, and regulators took steps to ramp up oversight of the industry.

In spite of the extra measures taken, industry experts said they believe another disaster could happen again.

They question the effectiveness of the much-touted containment system, and the industry is aware of a design flaw in the blowout preventers widely used across the industry, but no one has moved to fix the problem.

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