The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Advancing Industry’s Safety Culture

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted May 16, 2014

Industry’s commitment to enhancing the safety to offshore energy development in the four years since the Macondo incident was reflected in a half-day program on prevention and response sponsored by the Center for Offshore Safety (COS) at last week’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston.

cos_logoThe COS hosted two panel discussions – one focused on developing effective safety systems, and a second that centered on the actions, processes and leadership needed to build strong safety cultures. Charlie Williams, COS director:

“Sharing information about successful safety programs helps to strengthen safety throughout the industry and is one of the COS’ top priorities. Increasing our collective knowledge helps each and every company improve safety through better operations, practices and communication.”

Top officials from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) the Coast Guard delivered keynote remarks that stressed collaborative efforts by the two agencies in helping industry improve Safety Management Systems that companies use to ensure the effectiveness of safety training, prevention measures and more. BSEE has adopted three COS guidelines into its own regulations.

Williams, in an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle (subscription publication), writes about the emphasis on strengthening industry’s safety culture, which started post-Macondo with methodically studying every aspect of offshore safety measure and operations to pinpoint potential improvements in spill prevention, intervention, safety management and response capabilities. Williams:

cos_rigWe convened four joint industry task forces to scrutinize all facets of the offshore drilling process, from equipment and operating procedures to subsea well control and oil spill response. Working with the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, industry experts developed new recommendations and standards that guide operations in both deep and shallow water exploration.

These efforts build on industry-developed standards governing offshore exploration and production, rooted in API’s standards program that was born in 1924. Today more than 100 of these standards have been incorporated into federal regulations. Industry’s efforts produced results, Williams writes:

We revised existing standards and created several new ones, including standards dealing with well design, cementing, blowout prevention, subsea equipment for capping wells and protections for oil spill response workers. One of the first recommendations implemented was boosting rapid subsea response capability for well containment. Thanks to the establishment in 2010 of new collaborative containment companies, state-of-the-art containment technology can be deployed quickly in the event of a spill.

Williams noted the importance of offshore energy development in building domestic production to where U.S. net energy imports last year were at their lowest level in more than two decades, as well as projections that have the U.S. net imports reaching zero by 2040. Offshore development is key to the U.S. realizing its “full potential as an energy superpower,” he writes. Williams:

We have an unprecedented opportunity to achieve previously inconceivable levels of energy security while generating significant economic growth and job creation and doing it safely and in an environmentally sensitive way. … To quote the co-chairs of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, "offshore drilling is safer than it was four years ago" because industry and the government are working together to improve spill prevention and response, implement new rules and foster a strong culture of safety within the industry.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.