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Safety Rules Updated For Newly Constructed Offshore Facilities

Updated safety standards for newly constructed facilities that work on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the result of a lengthy investigation into the aftermath of the Macondo well blowout five years ago, were unveiled Monday by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

The regulations, published in the Federal Register, follow an investigation into the causes of the fire and explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon production facility, which sank, killing 11 men. In a preliminary report issued four years ago, the USCG and Interior Department found that Transocean Ltd., which owned the facility, contributed to the disaster because of "numerous system deficiencies" that included poor maintenance of electrical equipment, which may have ignited the explosion (see Daily GPI,April 26, 2011).

A "key finding" of the investigation “was the importance of proper electrical equipment installations in hazardous locations during oil drilling exploration" on U.S. and foreign mobile offshore drilling units (MODU), the USCG said. The existing regulations for locations that could be subject to scrutiny were reviewed to see what needed to be updated.

Mobile offshore oil drilling units (MODU), floating OCS facilities and other projects that engage in offshore activities are covered under the regulations.

According to the USCG, the rules expand the list of "acceptable national and international explosion protection standards." Operators alternatively may use the accepted global method, the International Electrotechnical Commission System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres.

The option would apply to U.S. MODUs, floating OCS facilities, vessels other than offshore supply vessels and U.S. tank vessels that carry flammable or combustible cargoes.

Currently, electrical equipment on U.S. vessels and floating facilities used on the OCS has to comply with international and national standards, and they require equipment be tested and certified by a USCG-accepted independent third-party laboratory. Foreign floating OCS facilities are required to meet the same engineering standards as U.S. floating OCS facilities, but foreign vessels "do not meet the same engineering standards as U.S. vessels," the USCG said.

"While the Coast Guard supports the development and adoption of international vessel safety standards, the existing safety requirements of the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea...do not completely account for the specifics of hydrocarbon production, processing, storage and handling systems...We believe this rule is necessary to ensure that all vessels engaged in OCS activities meet the same, OCS-specific safety standards."

Under the final rules, new foreign MODUs, floating OCS facilities and vessels are required to meet the same standards for explosion protection in hazardous areas as their U.S. counterparts before operating on the OCS.

Two years ago, Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the USCG completed a memorandum of agreement to  bolster the working relationship of the two agencies to improve the management of the safety and environmental protection responsibilities on the OCS (see Daily GPI, May 13, 2013). Last year the USCG then proposed updating fire safety rules for the OCS to ensure facilities were up to date with technological advances in fire protection.

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