US proposes new offshore safety rule incorporating latest technology

The US Department of the Interior proposed Wednesday an offshore drilling safety rule designed to incorporate technologies and practices that industry has adopted since the advent of deepwater oil and natural gas exploration.

The rule updates a set of standards from 1988, when most offshore exploration was in shallower waters and most safety equipment was installed at the surface, where it was easy to monitor and access.

“The common-sense changes we are proposing, which will address issues such as production safety systems, subsurface safety devices and safety device testing, will help regulations keep pace with changing technologies that have enabled the industry to explore and develop resources in deeper waters,” James Watson, director of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement. “The rule also implements best practices currently being deployed by industry leaders as we continue to strive for safety at all levels, at all times.”
Among the new requirements, the rule prohibits the use of single-bore production risers from floating production facilities, effective one year from publication of the final rule.

“BSEE believes that a single-bore production riser does not provide an acceptable level of safety to operate on the OCS when an operator has to perform work through the riser,” the proposed rule states. “When an operator performs work through a single bore production riser, wear on the riser may occur that compromises the integrity of the riser.”

The rule also closes a loophole that has may have allowed some operators to avoid having to use the newest safety technology offshore.

The existing regulation requires the use of “best available safety technology,” but gives operators significant wiggle room by using the phrase “where practical.”

The proposed new rule would more closely track language in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which requires that operators use the BAST that the Interior Department determines to be economically feasible on all new drilling and production operations.

The new rule would require that wherever failure of equipment would have a significant impact on safety, health or the environment, an operator must use the BAST that BSEE determines to be economically feasible, which BSEE could do through issuance of a Notice to Lessees or on a case-by-case basis. The rule would apply to all new drilling and production operations and, wherever practicable, on existing operations.

The new rule would allow operators to request an exemption from the use of BAST “by demonstrating to BSEE that the incremental benefits of using BAST are clearly insufficient to justify the incremental costs of utilizing such technologies.”

BSEE has invited public comment on the proposal through October 21.

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