After the BP/ Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the entire industry is facing new challenges, one of the greatest being public sentiment. Is deep water drilling too dangerous? Is it essential? Has the industry gone beyond its technical capabilities? These are the questions John Hollowell ’79, executive vice president of Shell Upstream Americas, hears daily.

He addressed those common concerns when he spoke at Mays recently. Yes, deep water drilling is necessary, and yes, it is safe to continue, Hollowell told students.

John Hollowell'79, executive vice president of Shell Upstream Americas, sat down with a group of Mays Business Honors students to talk about the necessity of continued deep water drilling.
John Hollowell’79, executive vice president of Shell Upstream Americas, sat down with a group of Mays Business Honors students to talk about the necessity of continued deep water drilling. (view more photos)

World energy demand is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 20 years and could double by 2050. Currently, one in four cars in the U.S. is fueled by Gulf of Mexico deep water oil—oil harvested from depths of more than 1,500 feet. A robust review of offshore regulatory requirements and their enforcement processes is critical, but new regulations should not create a more difficult exploration and production environment. The result would continue to be an increased demand for energy resources from other nations, resulting in higher costs for energy in the U.S. For that reason, offshore deep-water exploration and production is essential to the U.S. economy, said Hollowell.

“The BP spill was a highly unlikely event, not the sort of occurrence that is likely to occur ever again,” says Hollowell. “A number of barriers failed during the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

The event was an outlier he stressed, not in any way the norm.

However, if another deep-water incident were to occur, industry would be more prepared to respond quickly and effectively than before. ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell are teaming forces to create a subsea well containment system that would be quickly available in the unlikely event of another deep water well blowout.

Our goal is to never have a use for this equipment, says Hollowell. However, it will serve an important function: reassuring the public that it is safe to continue deep water drilling.

Shell continues to invest heavily in R&D so that their practices are efficient, cost effective, safe, and sustainable. Not only is it best for the environment and citizens of the Gulf Coast, it is also best for their shareholders.

Hollowell has been with Shell his entire career. He joined the company shortly after graduating from A&M with a degree in chemical engineering in 1979. He has worked in many different areas of production in a variety of locations. In his current position in New Orleans, he has responsibility for Shell’s ventures in the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil and governance of additional South American joint ventures. He serves on the industry board of the Texas A&M Petroleum Engineering department and oversees recruitment of Aggies for Shell.