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Baseefa Ltd

US offshore oil regulator BSEE targets safety culture

11 November 2013

Speaking at the Reuters Global Commodities Summit in Houston, Brian Salerno, director of the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), said efforts to avert another disaster like BP’s Macondo well blowout in 2010 may never be finished, but the regulator was making solid progress.

Salerno, formerly a vice-admiral in the US Coast Guard, where he rose to deputy commandant for operations, took over as director of BSEE in August 2013. 

BSEE is the enforcement side of the former US Minerals Management Service (MMS) and was created in 2011 after the BP well blowout to split safety and environmental enforcement from the management of offshore crude oil and natural gas operations. The MMS had been accused of becoming too close to oil company officials prior to the 2010 disaster.

BSEE has since tightened rules to improve safety and disaster response standards and is working to introduce more effective collective risk management in the industry. Salerno said that some of the problems Macondo revealed are only beginning to be understood, and that it was important to ensure safety culture is built into the business processes of companies operating in the offshore environment

Specifically, the regulator has focused on the need to generate information on near-misses. Most of these do not release enough pollutants to require reporting to US environmental agencies and are often unknown to regulators, but, after a disaster, investigators see them as warnings of impending tragedy.

By spring 2014, BSEE hopes to unveil a reporting system that will enable workers to anonymously report near-misses to the agency through US Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). This follows the model of the aviation industry, which has had a successful near-miss reporting service for decades.

Salerno also told Reuters that plans were in train to have auditing of safety plans performed by companies in the short term, with oversight by independent, rigorous third-party evaluators in the longer term.

Research centres will also contribute in developing safer technologies for the industry. Currently, Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago and OHMSETT, the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in Leonardo, New Jersey, are working on new technologies.

One focus of research at OHMSETT is finding technologies for use in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska. The intensely cold region requires different systems than the warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

BSEE is also close to designating a location for the Ocean Energy Safety Institute, which will work to identify the best available technologies for safety and environmental protection.

Salerno said another priority is the ability of producers to quickly respond to a blowout in shallow or deep water, and cap a leak within hours or days rather than the three months it took BP to cap the Macondo well. Oil companies have formed consortia to build huge structures, much like the one that capped Macondo, and are prepositioning them at various coastal sites for deployment if needed.

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