Guest editorial

Approximately a year ago, in June 2010, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asked me to serve as director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). Two months earlier, the Deepwater Horizon exploded, taking the lives of 11 men, injuring 17 others, and causing nearly 5 million bbl of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. It was an event with enormous human and environmental consequences, which will leave a lasting legacy. It was an event that jolted industry and government alike. 

In the wake of Deepwater Horizon, BOEMRE has raised the bar for safety, oversight, and environmental protection at every stage of the drilling process. We have made significant progress, but there is still much work to be done. One of the most pressing issues facing the agency is ensuring that we can fill our ranks with the nation’s best and the brightest engineers and scientists.

Strengthening Regulations

First, a brief look at the reforms we have undertaken. Among the central tasks that needed to be addressed was the strengthening of the rules and regulations that govern offshore drilling. We needed to enhance drilling and workplace safety and provide additional protection for the environment. We did so quickly and responsibly. Within a few short months, we developed and implemented two important new rules.

The first rule, the Drilling Safety Rule, created tough new standards for well design, casing, and cementing, and new rules for well control procedures and equipment, including blowout preventers. Operators are now required to obtain independent third party inspection and certification of the proposed drilling process, and an engineer must certify that blowout preventers meet new standards for testing and maintenance and are capable of severing the drill pipe under anticipated well pressures. The second rule, the Workplace Safety Rule, requires operators to systematically identify risks and establish barriers to those risks and thereby seeks to reduce the human and organizational errors that lie at the heart of many accidents and oil spills.

In addition, operators must now have a plan and the demonstrated ability to shut in a deepwater blowout and capture oil flowing from a wild well. Thus, rather than improvising a containment response on the fly—with the hits and misses we saw during the attempts to bring the Macondo well under control—each operator must develop a containment plan that includes demonstration of access to containment technology such as a capping stack, and BOEMRE has to approve this plan.

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