In response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama Administration launched the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history. The reforms, which strengthen requirements for everything from well design and workplace safety to corporate accountability, are helping ensure that the United States can safely and responsibly expand development of its energy resources.
The administration quickly launched the most aggressive campaign to enforce safety and conservation on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). In selecting Michael R. Bromwich to lead the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) in June 2010, President Barack Obama and Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar issued a mandate: to reform the government’s regulation of offshore energy development and the agency responsible for it. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and BOEMRE (now BSEE) made fundamental changes necessary to restore the American people’s confidence in the safety and environmental protection of oil and gas drilling and production on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, ensuring that responsible oil and gas development continues.
Improving the Safety of Offshore Drilling
The bureau launched aggressive, comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight:
Enhanced Drilling Safety
- Operators must demonstrate that they are prepared to deal with the potential for a blowout and worst-case discharge per NTL-06.
- Permit applications for drilling projects must meet new standards for well-design, casing, and cementing, and be independently certified by a professional engineer per the new Drilling Safety Rule. Drilling standards have been strengthened in the exploration and development stages, for equipment, safety practices, environmental safeguards, and oversight.
- New guidance, through NTL-10, requires a corporate compliance statement and review of subsea blowout containment resources for deepwater drilling, a key lesson of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
- The bureau announced that they will begin to use multiple-person inspection teams for offshore oil and gas inspections. This internal process improvement will improve oversight and help ensure that offshore operations proceed safely and responsibly. The new process will allow teams to inspect multiple operations simultaneously and thoroughly, and enhance the quality of inspections on larger facilities.
Enhanced Workplace Safety
- BSEE imposed, for the first time, requirements that offshore operators maintain comprehensive safety and environmental programs. This includes performance-based standards for offshore drilling and production operations, including equipment, safety practices, environmental safeguards, and management oversight of operations and contractors. Companies will now have to develop and maintain a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) per the new Workplace Safety Rule.
Ongoing Improvements to the Offshore Regulator
The reorganization and internal reforms that were implemented were designed to remove the complex and sometimes conflicting missions of the former MMS by clarifying and separating these missions across three agencies and providing each of the new agencies with clear areas of focus and new resources necessary to fulfill those missions:
- In the place of the former Mineral Management Service (MMS), three strong, independent agencies were created with clearly defined roles and missions through a comprehensive re-organization.
- In his first week, Director Bromwich established an Investigations and Review Unit to root out problems within the regulatory agency and target companies that aim to game the system.
- The bureau has implemented a new recusal policy for employees to deal with real and perceived conflicts of interest.
- Secretary Salazar and Director Bromwich launched a full review of the use of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), categorical exclusions, during which they are not being used to approve proposed deepwater drilling projects.
- As part of the reorganization, the bureau created multiple Implementation Teams, tasked with analyzing various aspects of bureau’s regulatory structure and helping to implement the reform agenda.
- Secretary Salazar and Director Bromwich established the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee, a permanent advisory body of the nation’s leading scientific, engineering, and technical experts who provide critical guidance on improving offshore drilling safety, well containment, and spill response.
- BSEE believes that public engagement is critical as we safely explore and develop offshore resources. Public comment is solicited in our environmental review and regulatory programs for both oil and gas, and renewable energy proposals. This is critical to science-based decision making that is transparent and accessible.