Don’t overlook strides in improved offshore safety

Don’t overlook strides in improved offshore safety

Secretary of the Interior Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air Overnight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis MORE’s plan to open the majority of the nation’s offshore acreage to oil and natural gas exploration has drawn polarizing reactions. The debate about the future of increased offshore oil and natural gas exploration seems to now hinge on questions of safety. And yet so little seems to be known about efforts from both government and industry to improve safety since the Deepwater Horizon accident eight years ago. 

The accident left a deep imprint on all of us, but it left a particularly deep mark on the offshore industry. In the days, months and years since the accident, the industry has learned much since and changed to improve safety.

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The Department of the Interior created the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to regulate and bolster the safety of offshore operations. New regulation was put in place. Sweeping measures were taken to overhaul the industry’s capability to intervene and respond in case of an incident.

 

To prevent accidents from happening in the first place, the industry created or revised more than 100 offshore standards and established the safety and environmental management systems (SEMS).  

How we achieve safe operations is evolving. The changes promoted under SEMS reflect a shift in the understanding of what underpins safety. We are striving to build systems and approaches that are inherently safer. For example, companies are adopting processes that have layers of verification from multiple sets of eyes.

This shift in approach is much like those seen in other industries that also deal with immensely complex situations and processes. Think of the airline industry or health care. If you or a loved one has recently had surgery, the surgeons and their team might go through a half-dozen checks, involving multiple people to make sure they’re operating on the correct arm. There may even be a nurse in the operating room whose job is not to assist in the surgery but to solely monitor the lead surgeon. The double and triple checking may seem redundant but that’s the point. These safeguards save lives.

The implementation of SEMS in offshore operations is mandatory. It’s regulated by BSEE and the implementation of SEMS is audited by independent, accredited, third-party auditors.

We are also gathering safety performance indicator data — data that helps predict problems —not just lagging data that is an accounting of what has happened. This data helps companies identify what might happen, address it early, and build new ways of reducing risk and working safely.

The industry is working toward greater collaboration between companies to ensure good practices and good ideas about improving safety and reducing risk are shared and replicated across the industry. And this is happening and delivering safety enhancements every day. For a competitive industry, this type of collaboration and complete commitment to working together to get better is an important signal of progress.

But, while the industry has made great strides, we know our work is never done. Improving safety is a continuous journey that takes tremendous attention to detail, continuous vigilance, and a willingness to learn and build upon what is good to make it great.

Offshore safety has improved and continues to improve. It’s a story that should be a central part of the conversation about the nation’s offshore future. We all make better decisions or form better opinions when our understanding of an issue is as complete as it can be. Failing to appreciate the ongoing efforts to improve offshore safety would be a grave mistake.

Charlie Williams is the executive director for the Center for Offshore Safety, an industry sponsored group focused exclusively on offshore safety on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf