Posts Tagged ‘NASEM’

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will establish a standing committee to provide ongoing assistance to the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in its efforts to manage development of the nation’s offshore wind energy resources and their potential effects on fisheries


This seems to be a positive step and the committee members have excellent credentials, but how do you establish such a committee without any representation from the wind industry? Here are the 12 members of the committee.

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The National Academies have released Oil in the Sea IV, which updates estimates of oil entering North American seas. This is the third update since the publication of Oil in the Sea in 1985.

The updated inputs and seeps summary tables are pasted below. Some comments:

  • The Oil in the Sea reports are important in that they provide perspective on natural inputs and those associated with man’s activities. The estimates generate informed discussion about the relative significance of the various inputs.
  • The estimate for land-based sources, which far outweigh all other sources, increased dramatically from the previous report.
  • The oil seepage estimate was reduced by 37.5%, owing to methodology.
  • The difference between the itemized seepage total in Table 3.2 (109,000 mta) and the seepage total in Table 3.1 (100,000 mta) is not explained.
  • The authors assume zero oil seepage in the entire US and Canadian Atlantic, and Arctic offshore. This is highly unlikely given the widespread presence of methane seeps in the Atlantic, the numerous oil seeps identified offshore Labrador, and the MMS/BOEM report on Arctic seepage.
  • The estimate for platform spills (excluding Macondo and the MC-20 seepage) was significantly and inexplicably increased from the previous report, and is well above what BSEE data indicate for that period. No data or justification are provided.
  • The statement (p. 58) that “spills occurred more frequently in offshore waters than nearshore waters” is puzzling and unsubstantiated.

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Although we are still waiting for the report on the 2021 Huntington Beach pipeline spill, all evidence indicates that the spill was caused by a container ship anchor. Available information to date also suggests that the pipeline was well maintained and properly operated. The volume spilled and resulting damage was less than predicted. Nonetheless, some vocal opportunists took full advantage of the spill to further demonize offshore production.

One of our very savvy BOE readers shared data (attached) from Oil in the Sea III, a National Academies report that is the best source of information on oil inputs into US waters. The data for Southern California are presented below in 3 charts. The first chart shows that natural seeps are overwhelmingly the leading offshore source of oil entering SoCal waters, with offshore platforms and pipelines accounting for <0.5% of the oil.

The second and third charts exclude natural seepage and compare the coastal and offshore oil inputs from the other sources. When land based transportation inputs are included (chart 2), platforms and pipelines (combined) account for 5.3% of the oil.

Excluding natural seepage and land based transportation inputs (chart 3), recreation vessels are by far the leading source of oil (47.5%), with platforms and pipelines (combined) accounting for less than half that volume (22.2%).

These data add important perspective, but are not intended to discount platform and pipeline spills. These spills can have significant localized impacts, and every effort must be made to prevent their occurrence.

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While the Fieldwood Energy violations drove up the number of Incidents of Non-Compliance (INCs) in the Gulf of Mexico in 2021, most operating companies appear to have had good compliance records. Among companies that were subjected to at least 10 facility inspection and drilled at least one well, BHP Billiton, Eni US, and Murphy (listed alphabetically) had the most impressive compliance records. These three operators were cited for 7 or fewer INCs, none of which required a facility to be shut-in. Other operators that exceeded those activity thresholds and had excellent compliance records were (listed alphabetically) Anadarko, ANKOR Energy, Chevron, EnVen, Shell, and Walter Oil and Gas.

In the Pacific Region, Beta Operating Co., Chevron (now overseeing the former Signal Hill properties), and Exxon had excellent compliance records, although none of these facilities produced for the full year. In Alaska, Hillcorp had an excellent record at the Northstar Unit. (This is a gravel island facility in the State waters of the Beaufort Sea, but some of the wells produce from portions of the reservoir that are in the Federal sector).

Unfortunately, only summary inspection data are posted online. Without knowing the specific violations and circumstances, it’s not possible to fully assess the risk exposure. These oil and gas operations are conducted on public lands and are monitored by Federal employees. Inspection data and reports should be publicly accessible without having to submit Freedom of Information Act requests.

As has previously been discussed, incident updates should also be posted in a timely manner. Reference is made to this important recommendation in the 2016 National Academies report entitled Strengthening the Safety Culture of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry:

Recommendation 4.2.2: Because accident, incident, and inspection data all are needed to identify and understand safety risks and corrective actions, the committee recommends full transparency such that regulators make all these data readily available to the public in a timely way, taking into consideration applicable confidentiality requirements.

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With regard to air emissions, the advantages of deepwater Gulf of Mexico production are rather obvious:

  • High production rates per well
  • Few surface facilities (57 deepwater platforms, 3% of GoM total, produce 90+% of oil)
  • Modern gas turbines for power generation
  • Tightly enforced restrictions on flaring and venting
  • Better control of fugitive emissions
  • Distant from shore (not a factor for GHG effects)

Wood Mackenzie, NOIA, and others contend that restrictions on GoM leasing are contrary to carbon reduction goals.

An important and unintended consequence of enacting more restrictive policies such as a lease ban or increase in royalty rate in the Gulf of Mexico is that it could give rise to carbon leakage to countries that export crude to US.

Wood Mackenzie
Chart: Emissions intensity for US crude importers. US Gulf of Mexico deepwater emissions are less intensive than all but one importer.

In light of the policy implications of GHG emissions, a Carbon Intensity Workshop is highly recommended. The estimates generated by Wood Mackenzie, Rystad, and others need to be explored in depth. Is data quality an issue? How are the data verified? Is there regulator or third party oversight? What are the assumptions behind the estimates? Also, for the purposes of US policy decisions, product transportation emissions should certainly be included. A barrel produced in the Middle East is not the same as a barrel produced in the GoM.

Looking at the chart above, I have immediate questions about the drilling emissions (blue). What wells are included? What about workovers and other well operations? I’m surprised that the deepwater GoM drilling emissions are so high relative to the other regions. While dynamically positioned MODUs have high fuel consumption rates, deepwater wells are few in number relative to shale drilling. Also, why are Brazil’s drilling emissions, which I assume are primarily associated with deepwater operations, so much lower that those for the GoM.

BOEM/BSEE and/or the Gulf Research Program (NASEM) would seem to be good sponsors for such a workshop.

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I was saddened to learn that the National Academy of Sciences is selling the Jonsson Center in Woods Hole, MA. This amazing meeting and conference facility is at a great waterfront location at the epicenter of marine research on the Atlantic Coast. You can buy the estate for a mere $27.5 million and continue its use as a conference center serving the marine science and policy communities.

“I think the concern is this is a historically important location for science, from its long history with the institutions,” said Dr. Saito. “To see one of our science institutions pack up and leave is sad for the community. Also, the loss of that conference facility, which I think is a really valuable resource for not just the area but for US science, is a sad thing to see happen as well.”

Makoto Saito, WHOI

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Comprehensive and timely incident data are critical for risk assessments, preventing recurrences, training and safety management programs, assessing the performance of the industry and individual companies, and driving safety culture. The National Academies 2021 review of BSEE’s inspection program included a number of recommendations related to data management including this one:

Recommendation 2. To further its goal of increasing data transparency and facilitating its internal and external use, BSEE should invest in more advanced and creative data collection, analytic and visualization tools, and infrastructure; corresponding data management, analysis, and evaluation capabilities among its personnel; and an outward-facing, online data system that can be navigated with ease and kept current across all fields for the purpose of encouraging and facilitating safety analyses.

National Academies Report, 2021

Unfortunately, BSEE’s incident data are not updated and posted in a timely manner. As we approach September 2021, the 2020 incident statistics are still not publicly available. These incidents include at least one rig fatality that neither BSEE nor the Coast Guard announced at the time of occurrence one year ago today (8/23/2020) or subsequently. The only public information about this fatality is the following self-serving statement by the operator:

“This is a routine operation that was executed with no time pressure as the rig disconnection had been decided well in advance,” Total said.


A 37-year old man died, but according to the operator there is nothing to see here. This is not the type of statement you would expect from a company with a leading safety culture.

The keystone of BSEE’s primary mission, protecting workers and the environment, is timely incident information that is regularly reviewed and updated. Continuous improvements in safety are dependent on continuous improvements in data management and analysis. BSEE can do much better, as can other regulators, the offshore industry, and those of us who are interested and concerned observers.

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