The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has issued a final rule that is aimed at enhancing the safety of oil and gas rig workers on the federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The rule builds on Safety and Environmental Management Systems’ (SEMS) regulations, which were issued in October 2010 and were required to be in place by November 2011. The initial BSEE regulations were in response to the blowout of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010 (see NGI, April 26, 2010).

The new, supplemental BSEE rule calls on operators to create procedures to establish “stop work” authority and empower all personnel who witness an activity that is creating imminent risk to stop work; requires companies to establish who has ultimate work authority on a rig for operational safety and decision-making at any given time; empowers all personnel to report to BSEE possible violations of safety or environmental regulations and requirements and threats of danger; and provides an environment that promotes participation by employees and management to eliminate or mitigate hazards.

The final SEMS rule, which augments the existing regulations, takes effect on June 4, and operators are required to comply with the provisions of the rule by June 4, 2014 [BSEE-2-012-0011].

The revisions “grow out of and strengthen the existing SEMS framework,” the BSEE action said. “This rulemaking will further support BSEE’s efforts to reduce the occurrence of accidents, injuries and spills during oil and gas activities on the Outer Continental Shelf,” the rule said.

“The Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill highlighted potential faults in the existing OCS safety culture, convincing MMS (Minerals Management Service, the forerunner of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) of the need to require all operators to implement a comprehensive SEMS. On Oct. 15, 2010, BOEMRE…published in the Federal Register the final rule,” requiring all OCS operators to have a SEMS program in place by Nov. 15, 2011.

Nearly a month before the deadline, on Sept. 14, 2011, BOEMRE proposed revisions to SEMS to address safety concerns that were not covered in the initial SEMS final rule issued in October 2010. Many of the proposed changes — which are based on comments from oil and gas operators and contractors, industry associations and environmental groups — are incorporated in the new final rule, according to Interior.

One commenter recommended that contractors have their own separate SEMS program, saying it should not be the operator’s role to ensure that contractor employees are trained in the operator’s SEMS program. BSEE said it is evaluating the possibility of requiring contractors to have a SEMS program while performing operations on the OCS. The BSEE said it may address this concept through future rulemaking.

Another commenter suggested that BSEE require operators to submit an independent, anonymous survey that validates the status of the existing safety culture on rigs at least once every three years. “The BSEE sees value in [this] comment…The BSEE will take this comment under consideration for future guidance or future rulemaking. Such a requirement could be put into effect by BSEE in the future,” the agency said.

In a farewell web chat last Wednesday, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the department may be facing a rough road ahead financially. The budget “sequester is harsh and unnecessary and should never have happened,” he said. Salazar said Interior’s 76,000 employees will feel the effects of the sequester. In addition to that, he said that $278 million in cuts will be imposed on Interior in the continuing resolution.

“We don’t have the budget that we need to carry out our mission.” The combined impact of the sequester and the cuts in the continuing resolution have “rolled the Interior budget to where it was 10 years ago. That’s not good.”

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