Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
May 2019

Vol. 24, No.19 Week of May 12, 2019

BSEE issues final drilling safety rule, part of regulation overhaul

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has announced the release of a revised version of the drilling safety rule implemented by the Obama administration in 2016 in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The agency said that the new version of the rule “removes unnecessary burdens to responsible offshore development while maintaining safety and environmental protection.” BSEE issued a draft version of the regulations in May 2018. The agency subsequently received more than 118,000 comments on its proposals and proceeded to review the draft rule in the light of this feedback. The new final rule is the result.

Offshore drilling safety

The rule applies to offshore oil and gas drilling on the federal outer continental shelf, and not to onshore drilling. The Obama administration also introduced a further set of regulations that apply to offshore drilling in the Arctic - BSEE has been reviewing those regulations.

“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common sense way,” said Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt when announcing the release of the new rule on May 2. “Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore. Under President Trump’s leadership, America is a leader on energy resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”

“BSEE’s review has been thorough, careful, and tailored,” said BSEE Director Scott Angelle. “Free of undue regulatory burden while ensuring that operators conduct outer continental shelf activities in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, today’s rule will fuel and sustain responsible energy exploration and production of America’s outer continental shelf.”

Opposition from enviros

Environmental organizations have a different perspective, claiming that the Trump administration is compromising protection of the environment in the interests of boosting the oil industry.

“Gutting the few offshore drilling safeguards established in wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster is reckless and wrong,” said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins. “The president is putting industry cost-savings ahead of safety just weeks after the anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Today’s announcement is a major step backward in offshore drilling safety. Our government shouldn’t be catering to the demands of the oil industry at the expense of public and environmental safety.”

Changes and additions

BSEE said that the final rule leaves unchanged 274 of the 342 provisions in the original rule, and that the agency has added 33 new provisions to improve OCS operations. The agency also said that it has reviewed the rule in relation to all 424 recommendations from 26 reports that were issued in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and has determined that none of the changes to the rule contravene any of the recommendations.

The agency said that changes include limiting the number of connection points to a well blowout preventer; requiring a connection point on a blowout preventer for a remote operated vehicle; improving the required functionality of rams used to close off an out-of-control well; and specifying a testing methodology that will extend the lifespan of a critical blowout preventer component.

Core provisions

The official notice that BSEE is filing in the Federal Register says that revised regulations continue to include the core safety and environmental protection provisions from the regulations originally issued in 2016. As an example of an undue regulatory burden in the original rule, the notice cites regulations for real time onshore monitoring of offshore drilling operations.

Oceana deplored what it characterizes as “drastic reductions in the frequency, duration and oversight of blowout preventer testing,” the weakening of real-time onshore monitoring requirements, and the removal of a requirement that the government must authenticate and approve third-party organizations that evaluate offshore drilling safety.

Benefits for industry

BSEE’s official notice says that industry will benefit from the new regulations through the reduction of compliance costs and improved regulatory certainty. Resulting savings can be deployed for more productive purposes such as new capital investments, the notice says.

“This revised well control rule will help to further manage risks and better protect workers and the environment,” said Erik Milito, vice president of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute. “The revision strengthens the rule and enhances a robust regulatory framework to ensure updated, modern and safe technologies, best practices, and operations.”


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