Enforcement Program Overview
The mission of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is to promote safety, protect the environment, and conserve resources offshore through the establishment of appropriate standards and the vigorous regulatory oversight and enforcement of these requirements. The BSEE’s goal is to achieve a high level of compliance, compel safe and environmentally sound results and ensure that all operators conduct activities in a safe and responsible manner. The BSEE’s enforcement authorities arise mainly from the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, though the agency is also called upon to assist in the enforcement of other federal statues, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act.
As part of its enforcement program, BSEE seeks to articulate and implement clear regulatory requirements and focuses on the prevention of violations. When violations occur, BSEE applies remedies that are transparent and reflect the, appropriate response for the conduct detected. BSEE’s enforcement goal is to correct operator behavior to ensure compliance with safety and environmental laws. The BSEE wants all companies operating on the Outer Continental Shelf to move beyond baseline compliance and conduct operations in a manner that prioritizes safety of personnel and protection of the environment.
The BSEE responds to and addresses unacceptable operator performance in a variety of ways. Preferably, any violations can be detected early through inspections and other monitoring activities. In such instances, timely notice is given to the operator, clear direction on how to come into compliance, and a reasonable opportunity to correct the condition causing the violation.
Any detected immediate threat to safety or the environment is mitigated through shut-in enforcement actions. Operators additionally are subject to enforcement actions for failing to correct previously identified violations. In response to these incidents, BSEE may issue orders of warning or shut-ins of platforms, zones (wells), equipment, or pipelines. This authority is critical to ensure the safety of personnel and the protection of the environment.
Should a safety or environmental incident occur, BSEE has a duty to investigate and determine the causal elements/factors and the appropriate corrective actions. The implications of such findings will apply to the operator(s) involved in the incident, potentially their contractors and subcontractors, and also may extend to industry-wide practices. BSEE withholds enforcement actions until an incident investigation is complete. Once the investigation is completed, the agency makes the determination actions.
Companies with recurring violations and/or other indications of unacceptable performance may be subject to increased oversight and potential additional enforcement actions, including suspension of operations, cancellation of leases, and/or removal of operator status. Operators can be placed on a performance improvement plans to address systemic environmental and safety concerns.
Operators are responsible for developing and maintaining a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS). A SEMS is required by BSEE regulations (30 CFR 250 Subpart S) to focus operator attention on the influences that human error and poor organization can have on incidents and to encourage the use of performance-based, disciplined operating practices. BSEE regulations require that each operator’s SEMS be audited every three years (30 CFR 250.1920) to ensure they have a SEMS, and are implementing and maintaining it effectively. If BSEE identifies safety or non-compliance concerns, including as the result of an incident, BSEE can direct an operator to conduct additional audits of their SEMS (30 CFR 250.1925). BSEE requires that every SEMS deficiency identified in an audit be addressed via a Corrective Action Plan (CAP), and that BSEE be informed when such deficiencies have been corrected.
Once BSEE has initiated an enforcement action, after-action analysis is a key element of BSEE’s enforcement program and is critical to a risk-based approach. Such analysis assists in identifying areas for safety and environmental protection improvements throughout operations on the OCS.
For operators who are suspected of committing criminal violations, BSEE refers those violations to the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General. The Inspector General reviews and investigates the incidents and refers cases to the Department of Justice for criminal law enforcement. Additionally, BSEE can make recommendations to the Inspector General for debarment proceedings that prohibit a company’s operation on the OCS.