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BSEE as an Environmental Steward Works Every Day to Keep U.S. Oceans Vibrant

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Our Nation’s oceans protect us, provide us nourishment and give us phenomenal opportunity. Whether it’s the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans or the Gulf of Mexico, these waters are teeming with marine life, providing unparalleled beauty, recreation and economic opportunity for our Nations’ citizens. From north to south, millions of Americans rely on our oceans for jobs, to put food on the table, and to fuel the country. These invaluable resources are critical to our Nation’s security and are the reason the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is committed to its responsibility for ensuring safe and environmentally sustainable energy operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

On May 29, President Trump proclaimed June as National Ocean Month. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water. With more than 3 million American jobs dependent on our oceans and roughly 18.6 percent of our Nation’s oil and gas production conducted offshore, our oceans are critical to the economic future of many American families.

“The simultaneous achievement of environmental stewardship and economic prosperity from God-given water resources is possible,” said BSEE Director Scott Angelle. “And I am proud to know that at the forefront of this effort are the men and women of BSEE.”

Charged with three over-lapping missions: safety, environmental stewardship and resource conservation, BSEE employees in Washington D.C., the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific and Alaska regions are fulfilling this essential mission.

Although all three parts of BSEE’s mission are critical, for some, environmental stewardship and enforcement is a passion that drives their commitment to ensuring America’s oceans are healthy and vibrant for years to come.

Environmental compliance does not merely tie in with our mission, “Environmental Enforcement” is in our name,” said BSEE Pacific OCS Region Environmental Compliance Officer James Salmons. “As environmental stewards, a clear concern for the well-being and preservation of the natural environment is paramount.”

One of 30 Environmental Compliance Officers throughout the Bureau, Salmons and other BSEE Environmental Compliance Program personnel regularly visit work locations and environmental sites on the OCS to integrate prevention, compliance, and preparedness activities. These visits include field inspections of emission sources installed on offshore platforms, underwater field investigations to examine the effects of industry activities on marine habitats and communities, water quality inspections, which include pollution prevention, as well as discharge/release investigations and verifying that all activities do not adversely affect cultural or historical resources on the federal OCS. In all, BSEE environmental compliance officers have conducted 306 environmental inspections of facilities during this administration, verifying regulatory compliance and mitigate impacts to natural, cultural and economic resources.

Maintaining the health of the Nation’s oceans requires planning and preparedness. Each year, BSEE, in coordination with other federal and state partners, executes Government Initiated Unannounced Exercises to verify that offshore facilities can effectively following their approved response plans. These exercises can range from simple and functional to complex multi-day, full-scale exercises and allow BSEE to, without notice, witness and evaluate an operator’s ability to effectively respond to hypothetical incidents. Annual reports capture the lessons learned from these exercises that help planners and emergency responders improve their processes.

“BSEE is taking meaningful steps to enhance response efforts to mitigate environmental hazards and continues to examine and implement solutions that maintain the health of the nation’s offshore environment,” said Eric J. Miller, BSEE, acting chief, Oil Spill Preparedness

BSEE’s environmental stewardship focus also provides unique opportunities to promote the health of America’s marine environment through efforts working with state governments, non-governmental organizations and industry. One of these innovative programs is BSEE’s Rigs to Reefs program.

Repurposing platforms into permanent marine habitat, has been a huge success story through Rigs to Reefs. Since 2017, there have been 43 new platforms added, bringing the total to more than 500 artificial reef structures in the Gulf of Mexico, and providing a unique habitat that supports biodiversity. Encouraged through the National Fishing Enhancement Act of 1984, states began developing policies and laws to support the creation of artificial reefs by reusing obsolete platform jackets in the Gulf of Mexico. The results have led to sustained habitats after a platform’s economic life has ended.

“The diverse and dense marine life living on or near platforms illustrates the unique value of these structures to biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico,” said BSEE Rigs to Reefs Program Coordinator Doug Peter. “BSEE encourages the conversion of appropriate platforms to permanent artificial reefs to support marine biodiversity.”

The size and complexity of these structures offer a location for organisms such as algae, hydroids, bivalves, sponges, and corals, and over 100 species of fish have been documented near platforms, many of which are commercially and recreationally important.

In 2018, BSEE, after several years of collaboration with multiple federal and state agencies, established the first and only artificial reef within a national marine sanctuary following the decommissioning of the W&T Offshore HI-A-389A platform. Located in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico, the 246-foot by 166-foot wide and 345-foot high artificial reef now serves as a hard-bottom habitat that supports numerous marine species. The site is one of the most popular dive sites on the Federal OCS and is visited by Federal and state scientists, academics, and the public. 

National Ocean Month is an opportunity for America to reflect on the importance of our oceans to our national security, economy, recreation and enjoyment. Fifty percent of United States is made up of ocean, and studies estimate 84 percent of our planet’s fossil fuels are located beneath oceans. BSEE recognizes the importance of our nation’s oceans in providing nourishment and economic opportunity for many Americans and remains dedicated to preparedness activities that strengthen operators’ response and reduce environmental impacts on America’s waterways.