The massive Gulf oil spill raised the alarm about huge, state-of-the-art deep-water drilling rigs. But greater danger may actually come from the region's aging oil infrastructure, say experts. Older structures face increased risk of accidents, particularly fires—more than 50% of the 3,000 oil platforms in the Gulf are more than 20 years old, but they accounted for more than 60% of the serious injuries that occurred on platforms last year, according to an analysis of accident records by the Wall Street Journal. And these platforms—which date as far back as the 1940s—aren't getting much attention.
The Journal points to a laundry list of problems: Hurricanes, currents, and salt water cause damage, but unlike rigs, these platforms can't be hauled ashore for repairs; on-site maintenance work is often bypassed in favor of turning efforts to new sources of oil rather than old fields; and new federal policy on aging infrastructure doesn't address old wells currently in operation or aging offshore pipelines, which have lower inspection standards than those on land. And they may only get older: New technology is allowing companies to squeeze more oil from old fields, lengthening the lives of the platforms and pipelines connected to them.