Beaudreau: Feds’ ‘robust regulatory agenda’ will boost Gulf safety

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Tommy Beaudreau was part of a team tasked with reorganizing the federal agency that oversaw offshore drilling. Beaudreau went on to direct all offshore energy leasing as head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and, more recently, he served as the acting assistant secretary of land and minerals, which put him in charge of energy development on public land as well as U.S. waters.

He just became chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Beaudreau is set to speak Tuesday during the Offshore Technology Conference about recent policy developments at the Interior Department, where work is underway on requirements for offshore equipment, baseline standards for Arctic exploration and possible seismic research in Atlantic waters.

FuelFix: What will be your main message at OTC?

Beaudreau: The main messages are going to be continuing to focus on the Gulf of Mexico as a major component of the United States energy portfolio and discussing emerging and continuing challenges there, both in terms of technological development but also the regulatory challenges going forward, particularly with respect to emerging prospects in sub-salt and deepwater.

FuelFix: In terms of offshore rulemaking, the Interior Department and BSEE have a lot on their plate, from the  oil and gas production safety systems proposed rule to the blowout preventer rule and Arctic standards. Where does the those stand?

Beaudreau: There are a number of big ticket items that are in the works. I will say there is a very robust regulatory agenda coming out of BSEE, all geared toward enhancing and improving safety while at the same time being smart about it and recognizing the opportunities that offshore development presents.

The production safety draft rule was out for comment. We extended the comment period in order to allow everyone to provide more input. We’ll be looking to take into consideration comments we’ve received on the production safety rule and finalize that rule in the near future.

The Arctic standards rulemaking is quite far along internally. We’re preparing the draft rule which still has to undergo interagency review and Office of Management and Budget review, we’re hoping to get that out on the street for comment later this year.

The BOP rule also is quite far along in its internal development. It needs to undergo the same sort of interagency review, but we’re pushing very hard to get that out on the street for public comment as well.

FuelFix: There has been some criticism of the time it has taken to write a blowout preventer rule, first promised in the months after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Some would say industry has really outpaced regulators in improving the equipment. What’s your take?

Beaudreau: We’ve taken time with the BOP rule for a number of reasons. Industry has — and I’ll give them some credit for this — taken some initiative around improving performance of blowout preventers, looking forward to some of these emerging prospects that carry opportunities but also safety challenges. And that’s good. Part of what we’ve been deliberate on and focused on as we write the rule is to have a good understanding from the industry’s perspective where the technology is heading (and) what are positive aspects of where that is heading and where, from our point of view, additional work can be done to promote the performance and reliability of these systems.

While safety and the performance of these systems is the No. 1 priority, we also want to be very smart about how the requirements are implemented, so that we have a good understanding of where things stand in terms of technological development, what are reasonable timeframes for implementing new requirements so as new BOP builds and new rig builds come online, the requirements can be integrated in a smart way. And so, we’ve been, I think to our credit, very smart about how we’ve gone about developing these rules for all of these reasons.

FuelFix: Is there anything you would have done differently, now that you’ve seen the post-Gulf oil spill reorganization of the Minerals Management Service in practice?

Beaudreau: No. I think the strategy and the design of the reorganization has really been borne out by our experience since these new agencies have been stood up.

At the highest level, one goal of the reorganization was to restore public confidence in the competence, independence and strength of federal oversight on the OCS, and I believe we’ve accomplished that. I believe these new agencies carry a lot of authority and a lot of respect and are a much better resource than they were historically with MMS. I believe the goals of the reorganization have been fulfilled.

That said, part of what we hope to accomplish with these new agencies also was to have strong and confident regulators who have the expertise and confidence and to engage going forward and to be smart regulators, so that, where there are emerging issues, or ongoing considerations or issues should be looked at anew, that we have agencies that have the confidence and ability to do that, to keep pace and to stay modern. And so I do believe the reorganization has been a success. I think we have strong, well-respected agencies overseeing offshore leasing, exploration and development, and I believe they have the confidence and wherewithal to stay current and continue to grow and continue to adjust in light of changing circumstances and opportunities.

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