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BSEE Chief Identifies 'Next Generation' of Offshore Regulations

Speaking at the Offshore Technology Conference last week in Houston, the head of the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) outlined the "next generation of regulations" for the Outer Continental Shelf that the agency plans to tackle in the upcoming year.

"Our regulatory focus for the year includes four key items," said BSEE Director James A. Watson last Tuesday. BSEE is "planning to complete the "final drilling safety rule; completing the SEMS 2 [Safety and Environmental Management System] rule, which further enhances the existing workplace safety rule; preparing a proposed rule to enhance the requirements for blowout preventers (BOP); and preparing a proposed rule on production safety systems and life-cycle analysis."

The drilling safety regulation was published in October 2010 as an interim final rule in response to the Macondo well blowout that had occurred six months earlier (see NGI, April 26, 2010). "We are completing revisions [to that rule]...that we determined would not reduce the level of safety one bit," Watson said. SEMS 2 includes additional provisions involving stop-work authority, requirements for reporting unsafe working conditions on rigs, and requirements for workers to participate in the development and implementation of a company's SEMS program.

While those items are extensions of existing rules, "we are also working on some new safety standards, including one related to the design, manufacture and repair of BOPs...This is a rule that I believe is much needed, and we will work deliberately toward getting a draft rule published," Watson said. He noted that BSEE plans to host an all-day forum on May 22 in Washington, DC, to discuss BOPs and how to improve their reliability and safety. "We are inviting experts from around the country to participate in panel discussions." Details about the time and location of the forum will be released shortly.

In addition, "we are...working on a draft rule to update oil and gas production safety systems regulations. These regulations have not had a major revision since 1988. Since that time, production has moved into deeper and deeper water, and regulations have simply not kept pace with technological advances. This rulemaking...will propose an expanded use of life-cycle analysis of critical equipment to increase equipment reliability," he said.

Watson further said BSEE will soon be issuing a notice to lessees (NTL) clarifying the agency's expectations for oil spill response plans. In the NTL, "we are calling on the industry to move beyond simply purchasing more of the same equipment that has been available for decades, and to develop innovative technologies that increase the effectiveness of oil spill response equipment and to come up with new capabilities altogether that will significantly improve recovery operations should the worst-case scenario happen."

The BSEE director made it clear that the agency will exercise a "firm hand" in the offshore. "I want to be clear: that firm hand, the actual enforcement actions such as INCs [incidents of noncompliance] or civil penalties, will continue to be applied when appropriate."

He said BSEE has hired 28 engineers and 46 inspectors over the past two years and is looking to bring on more than 200 additional people to conduct permit and spill response plan reviews, inspect offshore facilities and ensure environmental compliance.

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