Oil industry experts pushing for more info for contractors

09 12, 2012 by Houma Courier

As oil companies begin implementing stricter safety standards stemming from the BP oil spill, operators and regulators are working to bring contractors up to speed.

The new regulations, many of which are broadly included in what’s called Safety and Environmental Management Services, or SEMS, have been slowly phased in over the past few years. Oilfield operators are required to create written SEMS plans that include exhaustive information about possible risks and the kinds of equipment they use, as well as detailed plans and backup plans for dealing with possible problems.

The companies that operate oil rigs are responsible for having an SEMS plan — the law doesn’t require contractors who work for those operators to have plans themselves. But, as the scrutiny and stakes ramp up for operators, those companies are increasingly requiring their contractors to submit parts of the SEMS plan themselves.

“Even if you don’t necessarily send people out yourself, the operator is probably going to require you to do a lot of this,” said Philip Pearson, an HSE consultant who spoke at an SEMS conference in Houma on Tuesday. “You need to know how everything works.”

The South Central Industrial Association sponsored the meeting, which drew a crowd of more than 100. The group’s director, Jane Arnette, said SEMS is “a big deal” for the host of local companies attached to the oil industry.

“We want to make sure that everyone understands the changes that are coming down,” Arnette said. “These changes are very important.”

SEMS requires many of the safety measures companies once kept through more informal means be codified in written plans. It also requires a clear paperwork trail showing what contractor or subcontractor is responsible for what work.

Jason Matthews, an inspector for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told the crowd Tuesday that every employee should know the basics of SEMS.

“If we’re doing an inspection and we talk to employees who don’t know what SEMS is, that’s not good,” Matthews said. “That’s a sure-fire way to get more scrutiny of your operations.”

Matthews said inspectors will be increasingly paying attention to SEMS plans as companies begin to implement them. By November next year, operators must have their SEMS plans audited.

Contractors seeking more information about SEMS should talk to the operators they work with. Information is also available on the BSEE website, www.bsee.gov, and on the SCIA website, www.sciaonline.net.