The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Straight Talk about Safety Rules

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted April 27, 2010

The Huffington Post published an article today that alleges Big Oil tried to stop the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) from promulgating new offshore safety rules before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig accident.

It's not true. Here are the facts.

API supports the implementation of an effective safety and environmental management system. But we were concerned the proposed MMS regulations would run counter to the stated goal of improving safety practices.

The MMS proposed incorporating portions of a long-standing API recommended practice (API RP 75: Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program for Offshore Operations and Facilities, Third Edition, 2004, reaffirmed 2008) into the new regulations while rewriting other portions.

API and the Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) believed the new regulations could be confusing, and pointed it out in a joint letter. Furthermore, the new regulations could force companies to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to their safety management programs without any assurance that safety would be improved. As the letter explained:

"The MMS rewrite of the sections of API RP 75 is confusing. The clarifying detail has been deleted, and the meanings have been changed. Further, many operators have voluntarily developed SEMS [Safety and Environmental Systems] based on API RP 75 that are fully functioning for them...It is difficult to see how a rewriting exercise of functional and effective plans will prevent accidents and increase safety."

API and OOC recommended three common-sense options that would promote safety for industry workers:

  1. Suspend the rulemaking and continue with the voluntary program already in place;
  2. Suspend the rulemaking and continue having a dialogue with the industry; and
  3. Adopt API's RP 75 as the model for safety and environmental planning.

Most importantly, API and OOC stated:

"We share MMS's concern about safety of personnel and protection of the environment. Safety is our industry's top priority. The offshore industry has an admirable safety record; and a commitment toward continuous improvement...[I]t is difficult for us to see how a mandatory, highly prescriptive program will make a difference. It will only penalize the good performers. We believe that voluntary programs that have enough flexibility to suit the corporate culture of each company are the best way to actually achieve the goals of this proposal."

Offshore workers are the first line of defense against oil spills and safety issues on rigs and platforms worldwide. These hard-working, conscientious professionals actively observe each other's behavior, remind their co-workers about safe operating practices and are schooled in how to protect themselves and the environment.

As a result, the oil and gas industry has a strong safety performance record. MMS data show the overall safety and environmental performance on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has shown steady improvement over the past decade.

Between 1996 and 2008, for combined operations on the OCS, the recordable lost workday incident rates fell from a 3.39 rate in 1996 to a 0.64 rate in 2008--a reduction of more than 80 percent.

During the past several decades, API has brought together the best minds in the industry and at the MMS to develop dozens standards and best-practices that contain guidance and recommendations to address safety concerns. Both MMS and the U.S. Coast Guard often incorporate industry standards into their regulations, giving them the force of law, and the standards and recommended practices are regularly reviewed and updated.

Read the full text of the joint API/OOC letter addressing the MMS proposed regulations below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.