Michael R. Bromwich, director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) said, "These two rules are part of a broader series of reforms we are undertaking to reduce the risks of offshore energy operations. We are substantially raising the standards for all offshore operators, and are doing it in an orderly and responsible way. We will continue to move forward with other changes and reforms in what will remain a dynamic regulatory environment. We owe the public nothing less."
The Drilling Safety Rule, effective immediately upon publication, makes mandatory several requirements for the drilling process that were laid out in Secretary Salazar's May 27th Safety Report to President Obama. The regulation prescribes proper cementing and casing practices and the appropriate use of drilling fluids in order to maintain well bore integrity, the first line of defense against a blowout. The regulation also strengthens oversight of mechanisms designed to shut off the flow of oil and gas, primarily the Blowout Preventer (BOP) and its components, including Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), shear rams and pipe rams. Operators must also secure independent and expert reviews of their well design, construction and flow intervention mechanisms.
The Drilling Safety Rule is being issued under an emergency rule-making process. Director Bromwich said that BOEM will soon move forward with a standard rulemaking process that includes greater opportunity for public comment and that considers implementing additional recommendations of the Secretary's May 27th Safety Report, such as the requirement that BOP's have two sets of blind shear rams.
The second regulation, known as the Workplace Safety Rule, requires offshore operators to have clear programs in place to identify potential hazards when they drill, clear protocol for addressing those hazards, and strong procedures and risk-reduction strategies for all phases of activity, from well design and construction to operation, maintenance, and decommissioning. The rule also requires operators to have a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS), which is a comprehensive safety and environmental impact program designed to reduce human and organizational errors as the root cause of work-related accidents and offshore oil spills. The Workplace Safety Rule makes mandatory American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice 75, which was previously a voluntary program to identify, address and manage safety hazards and environmental impacts in their operations. BOEM indicated that it will undertake additional workplace safety reforms, such as requirements for independent third-party verification of operators' SEMS programs, through an additional rulemaking process that BOEM will be launching soon.
Milito said, "The rule must serve the interests of improved safety and energy development. There has to be a clear, practical, and certain process for project review that will protect the environment. We cannot have an approval process that creates unpredictable delays that could place at risk the flow of domestic energy in our country. Operators want regulations that provide certainty. Unpredictable, extended delays in permit review and approval discourage investment in new projects, which hampers job creation, reduces revenue to the government, and restricts energy production.
"Getting a good offshore safety rule in place is critical to the nation's energy future. The Gulf and other parts of the nation's offshore areas are vitally important to helping meet the nation's future energy needs. The rule will affect every offshore energy project for years to come. It has to be right.
"We also still have the issue of the Gulf deepwater moratorium. Every day the moratorium remains exacts an economic penalty on the people of the Gulf and on our nation. The costs are already too high. We continue to urge the government to end it as soon as possible."