New government institute to focus on offshore oil, gas safety
Goal is to help regulators keep up with technology
As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above approach to domestic energy development, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director James Watson announced that the BSSE will establish an independent Ocean Energy Safety Institute to further enhance safe and responsible operations across the offshore oil and gas industry.
The Institute will provide a forum for dialogue, shared learning and cooperative research among academia, government, industry and other non-government organizations in offshore-related technologies and activities that ensure safe operations with limited impact to the environment.
“The Institute will help federal regulators keep pace with new processes employed by the industry as they move into deeper water and deeper geologic plays that require technological innovation to bring projects into production," said Director Watson. “I look forward to expanding the dialogue and engagement with additional stakeholders to identify and reduce risks to worker safety and the environment.”
A program announcement was published in grants.gov seeking applications for the management of the Institute. Interested applicants must register with the grants.gov website prior to submitting an application.
Unbiased, independent information
The Institute stems from a recommendation from the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee (OESC), a federal advisory group comprised of representatives from industry, federal government agencies, non-governmental organizations and the academic community. The recommendation calls for establishing a body that will provide a program of research, technical assistance and education and serve as a center of expertise in oil and gas exploration, development and production technology. The Institute will be an important source of unbiased, independent information and will not have any regulatory authority over the offshore industry.
“As offshore energy development becomes more complex, every effort should be made to make sure it is done ever more safely,” said Dr. Thomas O. Hunter, chair of the OESC and former Sandia National Laboratory Director. “The Institute provides a unique opportunity for all engaged parties to work together to identify and deploy technology that will make a real and enduring difference. The time is right and the opportunity is clear.”
The need to harmonize
While there have been other efforts to identify technological gaps and to recommend improvement of drilling and production equipment, practices, and regulation, the Institute would strive to bring these efforts together to coordinate and focus their respective work product. With the pending expiration of the OESC, there is a strong need for an entity to gather, consider and harmonize the proposals promoted by other research and development centers to inform BSEE’s regulation of the offshore industry. Additionally, the Institute would provide a forum for the education and training of government employees to ensure that the federal workforce can keep pace and maintain the same level of technological expertise as the oil and gas industry it regulates.
“The continued shift of the offshore oil and gas industry into deeper water and frontier areas requires new expertise for offshore workers and the regulators who oversee leasing, environmental reviews, exploration, development and production operations,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes. “As we continue to expand domestic energy production, this Institute will enable all segments of industry, government, academia and other stakeholders to stay informed about and engaged in changes in offshore energy development as they occur.”
Over the past several decades, offshore energy development has transitioned from shallow water environments with conventional oil and gas reservoirs to more technically challenging deepwater environments with high temperature and high pressure geologic systems. This shift has resulted in more complex drilling and production activities that provide new technological challenges requiring new skill sets for the personnel working at offshore facilities. As the industry adapts and innovates with new breakthroughs in technology and operational expertise, BSEE and other government regulatory agencies must stay informed of new and developing technologies and have the understanding and expertise to effectively fulfill their oversight functions to help ensure that tragedies like the Deepwater Horizon never happen again.