Outgoing offshore drilling regulator talks Gulf, Arctic

“We may have assumed that shallow water had significantly less risk but, as the recent tragedies show, all offshore operations carry a degree of risk. We cannot go on the assumption that, because it’s shallow water, there is any less risk to the worker or the environment,” Watson said, according to theHouston Chronicle.

That BP accident, which killed 11 workers and spewed nearly 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, led to a regulatory overhaul of offshore drilling, which included creating the BSEE.

Watson is leaving that agency after serving in its top post for the past year. Former Coast Guard Vice Adm. Brian Salerno will replace him.

Salerno will be charged with overseeing more activity in the Arctic, as Royal Dutch Shell hopes to start drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas near Alaska following a series of blunders last year.

The Obama administration is in the midst of trying to remedy some of the challenges Shell faced. It’s developed a broad framework for drilling in the Arctic — which will include an emphasis in building infrastructure to support such activity — and agencies are coordinating efforts on the issue.

Watson touched on the subject, the Chronicle reported.

“You’re operating where nobody has operated before. In the beginning of that process, companies are kind of each doing things independently, without any kind of infrastructure and without the benefit of learning things over time,” Watson said. “So the government role becomes even more of a factor.”