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BSEE Calls on Industry to Address 'Major' Offshore Risks From Potential Subsea Bolt Failures

The potential failure of subsea bolts used in offshore oil and gas installations has led the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to call on the industry to help address "significant safety concerns."

A newly formed BSEE Interagency Bolt Action Team would focus on the subsea bolt issue and the risks it poses to offshore operations.

"The failure of bolts in subsea oil and gas operations presents a major risk for offshore workers and the environment," BSEE Director Brian Salerno said. "I have challenged offshore operators, drilling companies, manufacturers and industry organizations to be more proactive in addressing this safety issue and it makes sense to bring our federal counterparts into this important effort.”

Three years ago the BSEE  ordered some offshore operators, estimated to be less than one-third of the drilling rigs working then in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), to suspend operations after discovering some potentially faulty bolts manufactured by General Electric (GE) (see Daily GPIFeb. 7, 2013). The bolts connected blowout preventer (BOP) stacks. Of the 83 rigs that were operating in the GOM at the time, 24 were identified by BSEE as using GE's H4 Connector, but not all of the BOPs had bolts from the bad batch.

Salerno said the new interagency group is to include experts and regulators from bolts-related industries to identify root causes of the bolt/connector failures, review industry standards and develop solutions for future safe use of bolts and connectors.

"By engaging with subject matter experts and individuals with knowledge of materials science and metallurgical shearing and corrosion, the team will be the first cross-agency group to address the causes and solutions to the bolt problem," he said.

Several bolt failures have disrupted offshore operations since 2003, including those used to connect BOPs, risers and other subsea equipment, and the Interior agency has taken steps to address the safety risks, according to regulators.

BSEE now is working with the original equipment manufacturers (OEM), including GE. The agency also has conducted a quality control study and called on the industry and its service partners to be proactive in remedying defects already seen in bolt failures.

In May BSEE was made aware of "additional field events" involving ram BOPs, where blind shear ram blade attachment bolts were found fractured. Testing is continuing to determine if there were contributing factors other than torquing. The OEM involved issued a safety alert to customers and proposed several actions to minimize the potential of any future occurrence.

Earlier this month the American Petroleum Institute (API) said the industry was committed to "improving training, operating procedures, technology and industry standards" regarding subsea BOP bolting. In a letter to BSEE, API's Holly Hopkins said the offshore industry sees the issue "as ongoing work that may evolve as new information becomes available." However, she said industry wanted to ensure that any proposed actions were consistent with BSEE's expectations and that federal regulators would work with industry in a "collaborative manner" to eliminate bolt failures.

During meetings with BSEE officials in March and June, API presented a summary of proposed actions to be taken by industry to complement the direction of revamped standards, which were part of BSEE's Bolting Safety Alert 318. API also has asked BSEE to share its data on subsea BOP bolting failures to ensure industry has an "informed and comprehensive conversation" to address the issue. A BSEE website provides guidance, reports and proposed recommendations concerning bolts and connector failures.

Operators that have taken part in the discussions are some of the biggest GOM producers, including Anadarko Petroleum Corp., BP plc, ExxonMobil Corp., Hess Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell plc. Oilfield services companies include units of Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., GE, National Oilwell Varco Inc., The Maersk Group, Noble Corp., Rowan Cos. and Schlumberger Ltd.'s Cameron International.

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