Offshore drilling is safer than ever

Offshore drilling is safer than ever
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Offshore energy production is essential to the nation’s energy security and economic well being and producing oil and natural gas offshore must be done safely. As debate continues over Secretary Zinke’s decision to expand access to the nation’s outer continental shelf, it’s worth reflecting on the steps the offshore industry has taken to redouble its commitment to safety.

Offshore energy production is safer than it has ever been thanks to industry efforts focused in three key areas. First, the industry has worked to prevent accidents from ever happening. This has been accomplished through extensive work to strengthen standards and through the creation of the Center for Offshore Safety (COS). Second, the industry has transformed its well containment and intervention capability. And finally, the industry has established one of the world’s most sophisticated and well-coordinated spill response networks.

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While government regulation plays a key role in ensuring safe operations, industry must take the lead. Setting standards is one of the most important things the industry does to encourage safety. Since 2010, the industry has created or strengthened more than 100 offshore standards to improve safety.

 

These standards cover everything from well design and cementing, to the ways in which operators and offshore contractors should interact. Improved and more robust standards have left few, if any, stones unturned. These standards have become the foundation for many of the regulations put in place by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). In fact, 96 of the industry’s standards are referenced in BSEE regulations.

The COS also plays a key role in making sure those standards are implemented and done so effectively. Launched in 2011, the COS works with operators and contractors to develop safety and environmental management systems (SEMS) based on technical standards. SEMS is a vehicle to embed safe practices and a safety-oriented way of thinking into every business practice, into every layer of an organization.

The COS coordinates third-party auditing of SEMS programs and provides a platform for collaboration between companies to ensure best practices are shared and replicated across the industry. In a competitive industry, this kind of collaboration exemplifies how important safety has become.

In addition to efforts to prevent incidents, the industry also now boasts state-of-the-art intervention and response capabilities. The Marine Well Containment Company and HWCG LLC were founded in 2010 to provide advanced containment technology and response capabilities for the unique challenges of capping well thousands of feet below the surface.

These organizations, funded by the industry, serve as rapid-response, special forces that can be called upon if needed. Their training, expertise and the technology they have at their disposal have greatly enhanced the industry’s capability to intervene in the most challenging circumstances.

The industry has also bolstered its ability to respond to a spill. Spill response organizations have enhanced their training and coordination with operators and government agencies, and they now can call upon far larger inventories of response equipment. These improvements were made after careful study of prior responses by industry, government and academia.

Offshore energy production is too important to the nation for the industry to be complacent. Developing the Atlantic OCS alone could support 265,000 new jobs and result in an additional $20 billion per year in new private investment within 20 years of initial lease sales. There are always new technologies, and new best practices to share. Ideas that come from within the industry and ideas that come from the outside as well. The industry has come a long way but our work to improve offshore safety is never done.

Randall Luthi is president of the National Ocean Industries Association, an offshore trade group.