Skip to main content

Offshore Incident Investigations

Offshore Incident Investigations

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) gives authority for the Secretary of the Interior to conduct an investigation and issue a report on deaths, serious injuries, fires, and pollution events that occur as the result of offshore oil and gas operations.  The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) carries out these investigations on behalf of the Secretary throughout the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). 

Overview of Investigations and Reports

BSEE incident investigations seek to determine the cause or causes of an incident.  BSEE will typically convene a 'panel' to investigate incidents that result in death, serious injury, or a significant pollution event.  At the conclusion of all panel investigations, BSEE will publish a report that explains the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident.  Reports will detail the cause(s) of the incident and offer recommendations to prevent a recurrence.  BSEE may also publish investigative reports on other types of incidents investigated at the District level.

Incident Reports and the Commencement of a BSEE Investigation

By regulation, offshore operators are required (30 CFR 250.188) to immediately notify BSEE of the following types of incidents:  fatalities; injuries that require evacuation of the injured person; loss of well control; fires and explosions; collisions that result in property or equipment damage of more than $25,000; incidents involving structural damage to an Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) facility; incidents involving crane operations; and incidents involving damage to safety systems and equipment.  BSEE reviews all such reports and determines what investigative resources will be committed.

Based on an existing Memorandum of Understanding, BSEE coordinates closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to determine how to effectively respond to incidents and to determine which agency will take the lead in the investigation. 

The Scope of BSEE Incident Investigations

Investigations typically involve a combination of witness interviews, analysis of involved equipment (to include testing), and a review of documentation from all companies (including contractors) involved. 

When an investigation panel is formed, it is comprised of investigators from BSEE's Safety and Incident Investigations Division and from the Regional Office of Incident Investigations. Inspectors and other agency personnel are also brought in to assist based on their areas of knowledge surrounding a particular investigation.   

Some BSEE investigations will require considerably fewer resources than panel investigations.  Many of these investigations are conducted by personnel in BSEE's districts and are referred to as 'district' investigations.  

The primary goal of every BSEE incident investigation is to determine the cause(s) of the incident.  The agency can then work to minimize the likelihood that a similar incident will occur in the future.