The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Continuing the Offshore Safety Discussion

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted December 2, 2015

A couple of important takeaways from this week’s Capitol Hill hearing on a proposed federal well control rule for offshore drilling:

First, offshore drilling is safer today than it has ever been – for the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Pacific regions. In coordination with federal regulators, industry has improved the safety of offshore development – in terms of safety systems management, prevention and response – while advancing the nation’s energy security through continued offshore oil and natural gas production.

This is seen in the approximately 275 API exploration and production standards that include offshore operations, more than 100 of which have been incorporated into federal regulation. Since 2010 API has published more than 100 new and revised standards for exploration and production activities – including many offshore-related standards for well design, blowout prevention equipment and worker safety. Industry also launched the Center for Offshore Safety in 2011 to support individual companies’ efforts to plan, execute and evaluate their safety systems and programs.

Brian Salerno, director of the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), affirmed that offshore development can be done safely and responsibly during the hearing conducted by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – his agency tweeting out:


The second point is that industry is fully committed to continually improving the safety of offshore operations. This is at the heart of ongoing discussions with BSEE to get the well control rule right.

At the hearing, API Upstream Group Director Erik Milito underscored industry’s support for the well control rule but said certain technical aspects of the rule need improvement. We discussed flaws with the rule proposal in this earlier post. Earlier this year industry groups, drawing on the knowledge and experience of more than 300 experts from more than 70 companies, furnished BSEE with a technically-based set of comments to create a robust and effective rule.

But a compressed comment period didn’t allow enough time for full technical comments, resulting in a proposed rule whose one-size-fits-all approach fails to recognize the variability of operations and unique engineering conditions of each well. Milito discussed the proposed well control rule as well as proposed Arctic regulations:

“[W]e are greatly concerned that a new rule … could actually increase risk and decrease safety in offshore operations. While much of the proposed rule is sensible and effective for addressing risk, there are various, significant elements of the rule that could do the opposite – increase risk. We are also very concerned that the Alaska specific rules that were proposed jointly by BSEE and BOEM will likewise not appreciably enhance safety.”

The bottom line is that there’s a continuing discussion. Salerno said his agency is still considering industry’s inputs. Milito said industry representatives are scheduled to meet with BSEE next week for more conversation about the well control rule. He said the goal is to get a similar opportunity to discuss proposed Alaska-specific regulations but, surprisingly, the government has denied that request. These discussions are necessary to produce an effective rule that ensures real safety improvements. Milito:

“Prescriptive requirements will only serve to stifle innovation and delay implementation of new technologies that could improve safety and operations. Working together, we can develop practical final rules that are ultimately both feasible and effective for the future of safe and responsible energy development.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.