Industry on board with new federal off-shore drilling safety rules

04 05, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

The Obama administration Thursday released a new regulation designed to improve the safety of offshore drilling, including a requirement that rig workers be given the authority to shut down operations to deal with potential emergencies.

Employees on the Deepwater Horizon rig were criticized for not recognizing serious safety threats, and not taking immediate steps to shut down operations before an explosion triggered the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The new rule also requires companies to submit their safety and environmental management systems to third-party assessments.

Under the regulation, due to take effect in 60 days, companies can conduct their first safety and environmental review themselves. But subsequent reviews, under the new regulation, would have to be done by outsiders, accredited auditors.

The rule, an outgrowth of the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf, is winning support from the industry's trade association, the American Petroleum Institute.

"The finalized rule recognizes the industry's safety-first approach by incorporating best practices recommended by both API and the Center for Offshore Safety, a joint industry effort focused on continuous improvement in safety and offshore operational integrity," API spokesman Brian Straessle said.

James Watson, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal government's new oil and regulatory agency, said the new rule is a major step forward.

"Offshore oil and gas safety starts with a robust positive safety culture, and BSEE's workplace safety rules are designed to promote that culture by eliminating complacency and making sure that companies are looking at the human factors that underlie too many accidents," Watson said. "This effort takes another important step towards protecting workers and the environment from preventable accidents."

The new rule allows for surprise inspections by federal regulators on a random basis, or as a result of performance issues. Some outside groups were hoping surprise inspections would become the norm, not the exception.