The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the two agencies within the Department of the Interior responsible for oversight of U.S. outer continental shelf oil activities, today released proposed new regulations for exploration drilling in federal waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
The agencies have been developing the regulations in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster - the draft regulations had been under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget since August but have now been released. The regulations are subject to a 60-day comment period that will begin following publication in the Federal Register.
"The Arctic has substantial oil and gas potential, and the U.S. has a longstanding interest in the orderly development of these resources, which includes establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, the surrounding communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. "These proposed regulations issued today extend the administration's thoughtful approach to balanced oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, and are designed to ensure that offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to the highest safety standards."
Interior says the new regulations contain a combination of performance-based and prescriptive standards that cover all phases of offshore exploration in the Arctic.
The proposed rule includes requirements that an offshore operator file an integrated operations plan for proposed drilling operations; that the operator of a drilling project has available a capping stack and containment dome for dealing with an out-of-control well; and that the operator has available a second rig for the drilling of a relief well, should a well loss-of-control incident arise.
"This proposed rule is designed to ensure safe energy exploration in unforgiving Arctic conditions," said Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno. "It builds upon our existing Arctic-specific standards and experience with previous operations offshore Alaska, encourages further development of technology, and includes rigorous safeguards to protect the fragile environment."
- ALAN BAILEY
See story in March 1 issue, available online Friday, Feb. 27 at www.PetroleumNews.com