Offshore energy development is safer than ever, let’s reap its benefits
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The United States is one of the only Atlantic nations that is not actively exploring for energy in the Atlantic Ocean. Canada, Brazil, Cuba, the Bahamas, Nigeria – near and far, nations with less coastline and less resource promise are moving forward to reap the benefits of their offshore natural gas and oil resources.

With the Trump administration’s new proposal to open additional offshore areas to energy exploration, we could soon join them. Government estimates indicate 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could still be awaiting discovery on the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS). That’s a resource base that could strengthen U.S. energy security and national security for decades to come – and the Interior Department’s plan to allow lease sales in the Atlantic, Pacific, Eastern Gulf of Mexico and Arctic is the key to unlocking our offshore potential, along with the opportunity to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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The announcement comes at a time when offshore energy development is safer than ever. The same technological innovations that have made the United States the world’s leading producer of natural gas and oil in the past decade have generated advances in safety, as well.

In addition to technological advances, collaborative efforts by the industry and regulators have also produced great strides in enhancing safety systems and standards. That process and progress is the backdrop for the Trump administration’s offshore expansion, as well as its proposed revisions to a handful of offshore regulations.

Immediately after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico incident, the natural gas and oil industry launched a methodical safety review -- bringing together industry experts, members of Congress, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and their predecessor organizations, the U.S. Coast Guard, Environmental Protection Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Through a comprehensive, collaborative process, we created dozens of new safety standards and strengthened existing ones on spill prevention, intervention and response capabilities. The industry launched the Center for Offshore Safety to help offshore operators develop and monitor safety and environmental management systems. The resulting technological and regulatory framework – a combination of enhanced industry standards, government regulations and oversight -- is strong, and it’s designed for continual improvement.

BSEE’s most recent regulatory proposals are a continuation of that process. Take the proposals on offshore safety and pollution prevention equipment. BSEE proposes eliminating third party certification, so long as the equipment complies with American Petroleum Institute standards – which are developed through a rigorous process accredited by the American National Standards Institute, the same organization that accredits several national laboratories.

Some have mistakenly characterized this proposal as a “regulatory rollback” when it is actually a technical adjustment that builds on established offshore regulatory practice. The equipment will still be required to go through rigorous quality assurance and quality control audits to help ensure the equipment is manufactured in accordance with specifications. The proposed changes actually expand the regulations by broadening the applicability of the rule. The priority is ensuring that the high standards we’ve established are met, and the proposed regulatory revisions continue to do that. There have been dozens of regulatory enhancements over the past several years, and continued advancements in technology and innovation will help drive future improvement.

We have the experience and the technology to operate safely offshore. And decades of experience have shown that offshore operations safely coexist with military activity, the commercial and recreational fishing industries, and coastal tourism.

Eighty percent of U.S. voters support increased domestic natural gas and oil production, and it’s not hard to understand why. Even under the most optimistic scenarios for renewable energy growth, natural gas and oil will supply 60 percent of U.S. energy needs in 2040, and worldwide energy demand continues to grow. To maintain the energy security that is so critical to fueling our economy and reducing reliance on overseas supplies, we’ll need more energy. And safe offshore exploration offers one of the best opportunities to find it.

Erik Milito is group director of Upstream & Industry Operations at the American Petroleum Institute