Bromwich: Feds may block bad apples from drilling offshore

Oil and gas companies with checkered histories could be barred from drilling offshore, a top Obama administration official said today.

Michael Bromwich, the nation’s chief offshore drilling regulator, said he is still studying whether the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement can do more to keep bad actors with repeated safety violations or other misconduct from drilling in the outer continental shelf.

“We continue to be interested in that issue (and) to explore that issue,” Bromwich told reporters on a conference call. As part of a broad review of agency policies, Bromwich said he is studying how to treat “operators who may have behaved badly in the past and whether they should be allowed to continue operating in the future.”

Federal regulations already allow operators to be debarred in some cases. And the government can suspend operations and apply civil penalties in response to some violations. But the disbarring authority has historically not been used, and some have questioned whether the current practice is enough to keep some of the worst performing companies away from the outer continental shelf.

Bromwich has floated the idea of being more aggressive in this area before, and some in Congress have pitched similar proposals that have not advanced far on Capitol Hill. Although more broadly written, some of those legislative proposals would have blocked BP from offshore drilling in response to the oil spill from the company’s failed Macondo well last year.

Several other countries already take a hard-line approach to bad actors, Bromwich noted.

“They have a much tougher re-qualification system than we do,” Bromwich said. “Part of what I have been trying to do recently is gather additional knowledge about what other countries who deal with similar kinds of issues have done in similar circumstances.”

Bromwich was speaking from New Orleans, where the second meeting of the Interior Department’s 15-member Offshore Drilling Advisory Committee is getting under way today.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar tasked the panel with developing recommendations for bolstering safety rules and drilling standards. And so far, the group is focusing on four main areas: safety management systems, how to prevent spills, how to contain them when they happen and how to respond to the disasters.

Tom Hunter, the former director of Sandia National Laboratories who is heading the advisory group, said it is studying a range of subsea equipment and how workers interface with it, including instrumentation, fluid injection systems and well control systems.

“We are going to take a very broad view and see if we can ferret out some very clear recommendations (for BOEMRE),” Hunter said.

Those recommendations could flow into a forthcoming rule that would set new mandates for the blowout preventers used as a last line of defense against unexpected surges of oil and gas at wells. Bromwich has repeatedly stressed that the rule-making process would be “broad, inclusive and ambitious.”

“We anticipate this advanced notice (of proposed rulemaking) will be extremely broad. It will contemplate a large body of possible improvements and enhancements to our current regulations, including BOPs,” Bromwich said.

Although the rule will be “focused on all dimensions of drilling safety,” Bromwich added, “there really are no limits to what we are looking at.”

The agency will kick off a long process of creating the new regulations whenever it publishes an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. That slower timetable will allow more people to weigh in on the measure’s content, Bromwich stressed.

“One of the reasons that we are taking the additional step of doing an advanced notice — as you know we’re not required to do that — is to make sure we capture the broad range of potential ideas for safety enhancement that may be out there.”

That could include mandates governing the design of offshore wells and new standards for cement barriers.

The rule also is likely to make adjustments to a drilling safety rule that was imposed last October. The ocean energy bureau has clarified some requirements of that rule already, in response to oil and gas companies that complained it set some confusing and conflicting standards.

“There may well be enhancements to that (drilling safety rule) and modifications of that that either flow out of our experience or flow out of the experience of industry or flow out of the recommendations that (the new advisory committee) makes,” Bromwich said. “It may well be that there are specific items that we’ve already issued rules on that we may want to change, modify, enlarge.”

Bromwich’s plans may cause heartburn for some industry leaders, who have complained about the shifting regulatory landscape since last year’s spill and insisted that oil companies need more certainty to plan investments.

Bromwich also said:

  • the reorganization of the former Minerals Management Service, and the final breakup of the ocean energy bureau he heads into two separate agencies is on track to meet its Oct. 1 deadline. At that point, BOEMRE officially will be carved into the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “There will obviously be . . . some loose ends that will need to be dealt with after Oct. 1,” Bromwich said, “but we are in many ways ahead of schedule in the reorganization.”
  • he is actively recruting candidates for new positions in the safety and environmental bureau as well as for offices in Alaska and the Pacific Coast.

15 Comments

  1. Trail Trash

    I agree with Bromwich on this one. Come down on those who screw up. No need to punish the whole industry.

    #1
  2. BonJovi

    Well the obvious example setter is that must leave BP drilling in Slobovia? If not keep the B.S. in someone else’s newspaper.

    #2
  3. YeahBuddy

    I wonder how much political connections and contributions to the administration will determine the quality of the apples?

    #3
  4. steve

    In Obama speak this means companies that donate to his campaign may drill those who don’t are screwed.

    #4
  5. Mike

    This sounds good to me, but I am sure there is someone out there who wants oil companies with records of worker injuries to continue to do so….

    #5
  6. BOB

    The ones that are turned down just need to contribute to the COMMUNIST MUSLIM PRESIDENTS CAMPAIGN FUND!!! THEY WILL GET THEIR PERMITS.

    #6
  7. Fiftycal

    Look for GE to start an offshore drilling company. No others need apply.

    #7
  8. PaleRider

    No problem with this!

    #8
  9. honestabe

    We should apply this principle to all industries when they screw up. Not only for harm to people or environment but for harm to the economy. I bet more people have committed suicide because of the mortgage crisis and subsequent economic meltdown than were killed on the deepwater horizon. Instead the government gave them 750 billion to try again. Is there any airline that would stay in business if this was applied to that industry. Space program, military, auto industry, transportation industry, all have history of major accidents. Where do you stop? This will have no effect on major incidents.

    #9
  10. Canne

    ….and sold (okayed) to the highest bidder.

    #10
  11. Bob Wilson

    When OSHA was created the first thing they did was shut down some 100 year old factories on the East Coast. These factories had been making shoes and guns and fabrics for a long time. America bought these products and the factory workers made a living. Now for only one example all our shoes are made in Asia by workers who are paid pennies and sold to teenagers in the U.S. for $100 a pair. When I “broke out” as a roughneck in the oil fields of West Texas in 1951 you either listened and learned the trade or you lost a limb or your life and took up some other line of work. Drilling for oil beneath the surface of any sea is dangerous business from the git go and I don’t think there is anybody in the federal goverment who knows their rear end from a hole in the ground about offshore driling and the risks that are involved in every well that is drilled.

    #11
  12. Jethro David Hightower

    Funny how any article inspires some nitwit to run his fingers about a “communist muslim president.” In screaming all caps, nonetheless. Either get back on your meds, BOB, or the Soylent Green agents will come knocking. Time to “go home.”

    #12
  13. The End is Near

    The last “major” offshore accident in US waters prior to the Horizon was in 1969, so the bad actors list should be a short one.

    #13
  14. hotline_Harry

    freaking control freaks. let business take care of their own. this is bs

    #14
  15. Transocean Deepwater Horizon was celebrating a safety milestone the night of the blowout-something like 5 years without a lost time accident!
    Just another senseless stupid idea from this administration!
    God Save America From Barack Obama!

    #15