Former Shell scientist named to head Center for Offshore Safety

03 07, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

Charlie Williams, Shell Oil's former chief scientist of well engineering and production, will head the new Center for Offshore Safety created by the American Petroleum Institute in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Williams was not a surprising choice. He had played a leading role in creating the center and was chairing its 22-member governing board, which tapped him to be the center's director.

The center will be headquartered in Houston, which Williams said was the locus of the industry's leadership and expertise.

"We have assembled the best and the brightest minds to help ensure we develop America's vast resources in the safest manner possible," said Williams Wednesday "Our top priority is to develop practices and programs that will help operators perform at their very best in implementing safety and environmental management systems."

In a telephone conference call, William said that safety in the deep waters is "a journey of constant vigilance" and that efforts to expand drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf depend on public confidence in the industry's commitment to safety and ability to deliver on that commitment.

In answer to a question, Williams also said he was hopeful the center's efforts would serve to smooth the return to a more expeditious permitting process.

The presidentially-appointed Oil Spill Commission had recommended the creation of something like the Center for Offshore Safety to raise the bar on safety and effectively enforce higher standards, though the members of the panel pushing for it had suggested that it not be under the auspices of a particular industry group, like API.

"We welcome Williams to lead on this very important effort, his 40-year career has made his name synonymous with offshore safety," said API President and CEO Jack Gerard. "Safe, responsible development of our offshore oil and natural gas is critical for U.S. energy security, and it provides U.S. families and businesses with affordable and reliable energy for our future."

One of the center's core functions will be to use independent third-party audits to ensure safe operating practices.

The choice of Williams might seem akin to the choice of Dick Cheney to be George Bush's running mate by a search effort led by Cheney. Williams said there were other well-qualified potential candidates, though, he said, most seemed more committed than he to their retirement.

Williams worked for 40 years for Shell, where his work included helping to develop high pressure, high temperature wells and specialized drilling and completion equipment for extreme environments such as deep water.

He currently chairs the Joint Industry Task Force on Subsea Containment, is on the operating committee of the Marine Well Containment Project, the executive board of the Marine Well Containment Company, and the Department of Interior's Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee.

The new center's governing board is made up of operators, drilling contractors, service and supply contractors, and trade association representatives.