Posts Tagged ‘Regulation’

photo courtesy of Lars Herbst

BOE an independent, unsponsored blog that is dedicated to offshore safety, pollution prevention, energy production, effective regulation, and responsible energy policy. If you would like to submit a post, leave a comment to that effect at any time.

Happy New Year! Bud

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New PHMSA (DOT) regulation

At the behest of Congress, coastal areas and beaches are now designated as Unusually Sensitive Areas (USAs). Given that any offshore liquids pipeline has the potential to affect coastal waters or beaches, the rule would seem to require that all such pipelines be included in Integrity Management Programs, which are mandatory for pipelines that could affect USAs. (The IMP requirements would almost certainly apply to all DOT regulated offshore pipelines. Their applicability to DOI/producer pipelines is less certain. Of course, very little is clear and consistent in US offshore pipeline regulation.)

As one would expect, the recent Huntington Beach pipeline spill is among the incidents cited in the justification for this regulation. More surprisingly, the Santa Barbara well blowout was also cited. This incident occurred 53 years ago, was the result of a reckless drilling program, and had nothing to do with production operations or pipelines.

As noted in a recent BOE post, the regulatory regime for offshore pipelines is badly in need of overhaul. DOT and DOI, with inconsistent jurisdictional boundaries, regulations, and approaches, have primary responsibility and multiple regulatory entities have roles.

Lastly, PHMSA seems to have inadvertently posted a highlighted copy of the new regulation. Nothing at all scandalous (looks like someone was highlighting potential talking points), but possibly amusing to other regulation nerds. 😃

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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency stay of the requirement by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration that those workers be vaccinated by Jan. 4 or face mask requirements and weekly tests.


This court action was completely predictable from the outset. OSHA no doubt knew this but had no option but to dedicate substantial resources to the task. In all likelihood, the ETS/regulation will never be finalized.

Many (probably most) proposed regulations are never completed. Others never get beyond the concept stage. Establishing an OSHA rule takes an average of 7 years. That is not at all atypical for Federal regulators. There are much better ways to accomplish the regulatory objectives as was demonstrated after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Unfortunately our political system frowns on collaborative approaches so we do things the hard way – accomplishing much less in much more time and at a far greater cost.

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Scandpower study (2004) for MMS:

Overall Conclusion
Currently, there are no regulations that require removal of subsea pipelines if they are not an obstruction to navigation. Based on the high costs for removing the pipelines, the personnel risk involved in the removal operations, the negative effect on overall emissions to air and the very limited reduction in discharges to sea, the overall conclusion is that it is better to leave the pipelines in place. If possible, re-use of the pipelines is the optimal solution.

Environmental Impacts
The impacts on the environment and the marine environment from pipelines and cables left in place were found to be very minor. Conversely recovery operations will have a negative impact on the environment. The number of vessels required for removal operations and long operating hours will result in considerably more releases and emissions than leaving the pipelines in place. In addition the energy savings benefit from recycling the pipeline materials will be exceeded by the energy required to remove the pipelines and separate the materials.

Pipeline Decommissioning: Environmental Impact Metric (per Scandpower)

Reuse or
Bury Abandon
in place

The “Habitat” impacts row seems questionable. Pipeline removal certainly has a greater impact on habitat than abandonment in place, particularly for buried pipelines.

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Establishing an OSHA rule takes an average of 7 years, and the process has ranged from 15 months to 19 years between 1981 and 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported to Congress in 2012

EHS Daily Advisor

OSHA’s long rule promulgation timeframes are actually quite typical for US regulatory agencies. In some cases, employees work on a single rule for most of their careers! On the plus side, the rigorous internal and public review processes help prevent arbitrary and capricious actions by regulators. However, the long promulgation process often results in regulations that are outdated before they are published. As a result, the entire process repeats and you have a regulatory “do loop.”

To avoid the daunting rulemaking process, regulators often resort to issuing notices, letters, or conditions of approval that accomplish some of their objectives. However, these actions are not always consistent with the rule promulgation requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act and other directives, and are less likely to survive legal challenges.

The optimal approach is for the regulator to establish clear objectives for the operating companies and a schedule for achieving those objectives. This approach was demonstrated following the 2005 hurricane season (Katrina and Rita) when numerous mooring system and other stationkeeping issues were identified. In a face-to-face meeting, Department of the Interior Secretary Gale Norton outlined her concerns and informed offshore operators that there would be no drilling from moored MODUs or jackups during hurricane season until the issues identified during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were addressed.

The collaborative effort that followed was a resounding success. In addition to addressing station keeping concerns, a comprehensive list of hurricane issues was developed. Industry and government then worked together to assess mitigations and develop new standards and procedures. The essential MODU standards were completed before the 2006 hurricane season, and all of the related concerns were effectively addressed prior to the 2009 hurricane season. Had the government elected to promulgate regulations to address all of these issues, much of this work would have never been completed.




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You be the judge.

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I don’t buy the argument that industry and regulators have paid too much attention to personal safety at the expense of process safety. Casualties from falls, falling objects, helicopter crashes, and other workplace activities have been persistent, and safety management programs must emphasize practices and procedures that will reduce occurrence rates.

Also, process safety has hardly been ignored. API RP 14 C has proven to be an effective safety analysis procedure for addressing undesirable events associated with each process component of a production facility.  For more complex facilities, Deepwater Operating Plans and API RP 14J, “Recommended Practice for Design and Hazard Analysis for Offshore Production Facilities, ” are good risk management supplements to RP 14C.

That said, we need better programs for sustaining the focus needed to further reduce the probability of low frequency, high consequence events.  When memories about the most recent disaster start to fade, what do we do to keep workers on edge and prevent complacency? What more can be done to prevent events with enormous consequence potential?  Some thoughts:

  1. Establish programs to remind employees about past disasters – how they happened and how they could have been prevented. How many offshore workers know the chain of events that led to the Santa Barbara blowout, Ocean Ranger sinking, Alexander Kielland capsizing, Piper Alpha fire and explosion, Ixtoc blowout, and other historic incidents? When discussing international incidents, we need to explain how our facilities or region might have been vulnerable under similar circumstances.
  2. Present information on minor incidents that could have escalated into disasters, emphasizing what could have gone wrong and why.
  3. Don’t just focus on the last disaster.  While addressing the operational and organizational issues that surfaced at Montara and Macondo, we also must assess incident data and identify activities and practices that could lead to the next disaster.
  4. Operators should not rely on the regulator to manage their operations. Reading about Montara and Macondo, one senses that the regulators were called on to referee internal company disputes and protect the operators and contractors from themselves.
  5. Regulators should not be making day-to-day operating decisions. Regulators should make sure that the regulations are clear and that operators have effective management procedures for adjusting programs as new information is obtained. Regimes that provide for regulator approval of each activity or adjustment promote operator complacency and are not in the best interest of safety over the long term.
  6. Service companies and contractors must challenge operators and regulators.  Operators should expect contractors to think and question, not to simply execute orders. There are impressive examples of contractors insisting on safety improvements, and being willing to forego business rather than compromise on safety.
  7. All sectors of the offshore industry should participate in standards development. Effective standards are dependent on diverse input.
  8. Industry and government leaders should promote innovation. Obvious weaknesses should be identified and industry should be challenged to propose solutions. For example, why do concerns about “false alarms” preclude automatic alarm activation (see Transocean’s Macondo report)? Data from redundant sensors can be analyzed by predictive software that is capable of quickly identifying real events. Similarly, why have advances in BOPE, including monitoring systems, been so slow? Why are BOP capabilities still poorly understood? Why are well integrity and casing pressure issues (producing wells) so common?

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In their comments on the Coast Guard’s Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Report, Transocean made these statements about BOP maintenance standards incorporated in MMS drilling regulations:

By glossing over the contours of the regulatory language, the Draft Report unilaterally converts API Recommended Practice 53 from an advisory guideline into a mandatory requirement. Notwithstanding the Draft Report’s insistence otherwise, the API’s recommendation that the BOP “should” be disassembled and inspected according to the manufacturer’s guidelines is not mandatory. The API clarifies that the word “should” indicates a recommended practice for which a comparably safe alternative is available or which may be impractical or unnecessary in some conditions. In contrast, to denote a recommended practice that is “advisable in all circumstances,” the API uses the word “shall.” The API also emphasizes that “the formulation and publication of API standards is not intended in any way to inhibit anyone from using any other practices.” Though it recommends specific practices, API acknowledges that “equivalent alternative installations and practices may be utilized to accomplish the same objectives.” On its face, the language of API RP 53 makes clear that the recommendation that the BOP “should” be disassembled and inspected in accordance with the manufacturer’s guidelines is a recommendation, and nothing more.

Although the MMS regulations governing BOP maintenance incorporate API RP 53 sections 17.10 and 18.10 by reference, this does not convert the API’s recommendations into a mandatory requirement. As the MMS has clarified, “[t]he legal effect of incorporation by reference” is merely that “the material is treated as if it were published in the Federal Register.”

Treating API RP 53 as if it had been published in the Federal Register does not imbue its language with more regulatory significance than it had before. The API’s recommendations regarding BOP maintenance—as well as the API’s acknowledgement that alternative practices “may be utilized to accomplish the same objectives”—remain recommendations, not requirements.  Transocean’s complete comments are posted on their website.

I’ll withhold my comments on the above statements, except to say that my opinion differs substantially from Transocean’s.

More significantly, these and other recent industry and government comments demonstrate the complexity of standards policy issues. How are standards most effectively applied by operators in formulating safety management programs, operating plans, and safety cases? Contractors? How should deviations from standards be assessed and documented? How should regulators use standards? To what extent should standards be incorporated into regulations? What is the appropriate role for regulators in standards development? These issues may prove to be more challenging than updating technical requirements. Stay tuned!

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This excerpt from a University of Michigan article describes the engineer’s paradox:

For engineers, failure and risk have a special relationship. If they don’t take risks they never do anything new. But if they do take risks, their probability of failing increases. So engineers must welcome risk and the opportunity to learn from failure, but they must make every effort to succeed. This leaves engineers in the odd predicament of becoming less informed as they become more successful. In that light, bad judgment could be an invaluable but potentially lethal experience. Conversely, evidence shows that experience fosters good judgment – the longer people do something, the more likely they are to make decisions, and in making them they’ll acquire not just an appreciation for the difficulty of rendering good judgments but the skill to do it well.


  1. Society is dependent on engineers taking risks. These risks can be managed, but not totally eliminated.
  2. The oil and gas that are produced offshore support economic development and technological advances that make our lives safer and cleaner.
  3. Importing energy transfers some risk to other locations, but does not reduce (and may actually increase) the overall risk associated with energy consumption.
  4. Experience matters. Optimal corporate and governmental risk management regimes emphasize the role of experts in making project-specific and programmatic decisions, and promote industry-government communication among specialists. Experience is not a conflict of interest!

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Like the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, the Montara Commission of Inquiry, the Norwegian government, and leading safety and regulatory authorities around the world, the IADC recognizes the risks associated with complex, multi-agency regulatory regimes. A single authority should be responsible and accountable for safety and pollution prevention at offshore facilities, and should draw on the expertise of other agencies and organizations as necessary to achieve performance objectives. 

The safety and environmental  risks associated with fragmented or compartmentalized regulation include gaps, overlap, confusion, inconsistencies, and conflicting standards. Industry and governmental personnel spend too much time coordinating with multiple parties and not enough time managing safety and environmental risks.

Link to IADC comments.  Key quotes:

IADC continues to be concerned by seemingly duplicative regulatory requirements imposed by the Coast Guard and BOEMRE, particularly where the agencies appear to have divergent views regarding the placement of regulatory responsibility.

One cannot holistically address safety when faced with the unyielding and overlapping demands of multiple narrowly-focused regulatory agencies.

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