New offshore drilling regulator takes helm

Oil and gas companies drilling in U.S. waters have a new regulator in the nation’s capital, as a Coast Guard veteran formally took the helm of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement on Monday.

Former Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Salerno was sworn in as bureau director at the Interior Department, making him the third person to head the agency during its brief three-year life.

Salerno is succeeding James Watson, who will take over as president of the Americas division of the maritime classification society ABS.

Watson is staying until the end of the month to ease Salerno’s transition, which comes as the agency is drafting new rules for offshore production systems and emergency equipment used to safeguard coastal drilling. The safety bureau last week unveiled a 149-page proposal to update decades-old standards for oil and gas production systems used offshore.

In an e-mail to bureau employees, Salerno praised the agency’s focus.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to serve as the BSEE director and work alongside you in your efforts to ensure safe, secure, and environmentally sound offshore operations.” Salerno said.

A formal ceremony with Interior Department leaders is planned for early September.

Salerno is no stranger to offshore oil and gas issues, having been part of the Coast Guard’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

In the wake of the accident, he frequently testified on Capitol Hill about how the government would respond to oil spills in U.S. territory and neighboring international waters. And as a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Ocean Studies Board, Salerno evaluated how to tackle oil spills in Arctic waters.

He also served as the incident commander during hurricanes, oil spills and maritime transportation accidents during his 36-year career with the Coast Guard.

More recently, Salerno has advised the Interior Department and safety bureau on communications, other issues and how to coordinate and manage responsibilities that overlapped with the Coast Guard. The safety bureau and Coast Guard recently inked memorandums sorting out their relationship overseeing drill ships and other offshore oil and gas facilities, in a bid to clarify how safety programs and other operations will be monitored.