The 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico had a profound impact across the United States and led to a series of major reforms within the Department of Interior. In October of 2011 those reforms resulted in the creation of BSEE, which, from the outset, was a Bureau charged to vigorously enforce offshore safety and environmental regulations, as well as promote a culture of safety, environmental stewardship, and resource conservation. By establishing BSEE, the U.S. Government severed the safety and environmental enforcement responsibilities (which are BSEE’s jurisdiction) from revenue generation and management authority, which is vested in two separate Department of Interior agencies (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR)).
The changes BSEE has made since 2011 involve everything from well design and workplace safety to corporate accountability. The ultimate goal of BSEE’s reforms is to help ensure that the United States can safely and responsibly develop its energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf. Among the many operational and organizational reforms that have occurred because of the creation of BSEE, the following are among the most significant:
Reducing Risk through Enhanced Well Design and Casing Standards
The 2010 Drilling Safety Rule requires that permit applications for drilling projects meet heightened standards for well-design, casing and cementing.
Increasing Inspection and Engineering Workforce
The number of BSEE inspectors in the Gulf of Mexico OCS Region has increased from 55 in April 2010 to 92 in 2016. For the entire U.S., BSEE has 121 inspectors. BSEE inspectors now specialize in well or production operations; this specialization allows for more training and time devoted to a specific area of inspection. The engineer workforce has increased from 106 at BSEE’s inception in 2011 to 129 in 2016. This staff increase allows for more thorough review of permits, and more analysis to ensure compliance with enhanced standards.
Promoting Safety Culture and Continuous Improvement at All Levels of Industry
The 2010 Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) rule establishes performance based standards for industry to maintain an active integrated program for safety and environmental management that empowers workers to participate in safety management decisions. The finalization of SEMS II in 2013 resulted in empowering field level personnel with the ability to make safety management decisions and strengthening oversight by requiring audits to be conducted by accredited third-parties.
Enhancing Blowout Preventer (BOP) Performance, Testing and Maintenance
BSEE inspectors must now be on location and observe BOP testing prior to drilling commencing at the rig site. This allows BSEE inspectors to witness first-hand the skill level of the drilling crews and provide more oversight of the crew’s handling of the BOP function. For a more in-depth discussion of this reform, visit the Well Control Rule page.
Access to Subsea Containment Capability
Before providing approval for deepwater operations, BSEE now considers whether operators have the capability to contain a subsea blowout such as the one seen in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting spill. Operators must demonstrate that they have access to all necessary equipment for subsea well control and containment, including a capping stack. As a result, there is now containment equipment available for industry deployment.
BSEE funded the start-up costs for the Ocean Energy Safety Institute to provide recommendations and technical assistance to BSEE related to emerging technologies and serve as an important source of unbiased, independent information. In a separate initiative in 2014, BSEE established the Engineering Technology Assessment Center to serve as a resource to BSEE engineers who review and approve the use of new technology by the offshore oil and gas industry.
Enhancing Ability to Investigate Significant Incidents and Allegations of Misconduct
BSEE has boosted its investigative capabilities by creating a dedicated team of investigators available to deploy when offshore incidents occur and/or to follow up on allegations of non-compliant conduct during OCS operations. BSEE has also established regular investigator training classes in order to assure that investigators are current with regard to the latest investigative techniques.
Stringent Arctic Regulation
BSEE announced final regulations that will ensure that any future exploratory drilling activities on the U.S. Arctic OCS are conducted under the highest safety and environmental standards and subject to strong and proven operational requirements. The Arctic-specific regulations focus solely on OCS exploratory drilling operations. These rules require oil companies to ensure proper internal controls and planning for oil spill prevention, containment and responses – all issues identified by previous BSEE reports regarding Shell’s 2012 exploration activities in the Arctic. The regulations codify and further develop current Arctic-specific operational standards to ensure that operators take the necessary steps to plan through all phases of OCS exploration in the Arctic, including mobilization, maritime transport and emergency response, and the conduct of safe drilling operations while in the Arctic OCS.