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Interior Proposed Rule Would Require Double-Shear Rams on BOPs

Nearly five years to the day after the Macondo well blowout, the Department of Interior (DOI) and its Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) unveiled a proposed well control rule that officials estimate will cost the oil and gas industry $880 million to implement over the next decade.

Under the proposed rule, blowout preventers (BOP) would be required to be outfitted with double-shear rams, a technology DOI said was already being widely adopted by the industry. The shear rams would also be required to adhere to a design that allows drill pipe to be centered during shearing operations.

Other requirements include: more rigorous third-party certification of the shearing capability of BOPs; real-time monitoring of deepwater and high-temperature or high-pressure drilling activities; and requiring the use of accepted engineering principles for drilling and completion equipment.

DOI has started a 60-day public comment period for the proposed rule.

"Many of the proposed requirements are based on recommendations from the Deepwater Horizon reports and investigations," BSEE Director Brian Salerno said during a press conference Monday. "BOP systems are obviously a large focus of the rule. By adopting detailed requirements related to their design, fabrication, maintenance and inspection, we intend to increase their performance and their reliability."

Last month, DOI Secretary Sally Jewell said a new rule on BOPs was forthcoming (see Daily GPIMarch 18). BSEE had planned on issuing a rule on BOPs in March 2014, but it was delayed (see Daily GPI, Nov. 26, 2014). Following Monday's announcement, Jewell bristled when asked about the delays during a question-and-answer session with reporters.

"This is complicated stuff," Jewell said. "There were an awful lot of assessments that were done post-Deepwater Horizon to understand exactly what went wrong and what we needed to do about it. The industry also did a very thorough analysis and came up with proposed rules that they're enforcing themselves on a voluntary basis. All of that was taken into account in coming up with this rule.

"[After] a tragedy like Deepwater Horizon...you [can] examine practices [of] how technologies are evolving, and how you incorporate those evolving technologies -- like well containment or the double shear ram BOPs,” Jewell added. “Those things take time, and we wanted to make sure that when we came out with a regulation like this it's been very thoughtfully [done] in consultation with a lot of different parties."

Salerno said the costs for implementing the proposed changes were estimated at $880 million over a 10-year period. "Cost per well may not be the best way to look at this, because it's really more of a cost to the rig owner and recognizing that rigs may service multiple wells," he said. "So that cost will really get spread out over multiple operators."

Salerno added third-party certification of shearing capabilities of BOPs would be "conducted by parties that we find acceptable.

"We don't list them in the rule per se, but there are criteria by which they would be found acceptable. In fact, we use third parties in a number of ways already, in some cases [with] licensed professional engineers [or] organizations that are specifically designed to perform quality assurance services. But in each case where people are conducting that type of review, it's in accordance with criteria that we establish."

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