Feds give industry more time to vet offshore rule

Federal regulators on Thursday gave in to the oil industry’s plea for more time to review a suite of proposed new mandates for offshore production systems.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said it would extend a 60-day deadline for filing comments on the proposed requirements by late October, allowing people to weigh in as late as Dec. 5.

The agency confirmed the 45-day extension in a notice set to be published in Friday’s Federal Register.

Industry officials had insisted they needed more time because of the sheer scope of the 149-page proposal, which updates standards that haven’t been significantly revised since they were first published in 1988.

In an Aug. 29 letter to the safety bureau, the Independent Petroleum Association of America asked for 120 days so companies could “fully analyze the rule and provide comment on the impact it will have on their operations.”

“While we realize that the agency is attempting to regulate advances in new technology, the proposed changes are both lengthy and complex,” wrote Dan Naatz, a vice president with the trade association.

The measure would require more rigorous cradle-to-grave assessments of critical safety and pollution prevention equipment, such as foam firefighting systems and electronic emergency shutdown devices at some 3,000 existing production facilities on the United States’ outer continental shelf. The rigorous “life-cycle” analysis that would be required under the rule is a vigorous, continual review that spans the entire life of devices, from their design and manufacture to their use in the field and eventual decommissioning.

Under the rule, oil and gas companies operating offshore also would have to more frequently report failures in safety and pollution prevention equipment and better document maintenance of the systems.

Companies would have to notify manufacturers of failures of safety and pollution prevention equipment within 30 days after discovering the problems. And the rule would require operators to conduct investigations within 60 days of the failures, with the manufacturer of the equipment guaranteed a copy of any analysis reports.

Offshore regulators also are insisting on more rigorous design standards and testing of boarding shutdown valves, which allow the flow of oil and gas to be halted in an emergency.

It’s becoming increasingly common for some agencies to extend the comment periods on complex regulatory proposals, in recognition that the standard 60-day time frame isn’t always sufficient. For instance, in June, the Bureau of Land Management gave the oil industry, environmentalists and others an extra 60 days to comment on a broad new plan to stiffen standards for wells drilled on public lands.

BSEE’s proposed production systems rule

Also on FuelFix:

New Interior secretary makes first offshore rig visit