Regulator says collaboration needed offshore

WASHINGTON — One of the biggest obstacles in boosting the safety of offshore drilling is making sure a massive web of contractors and oil companies are working collaboratively to prevent accidents, a top federal regulator says.

Offshore, “you have an operator and multiple contractors and subcontractors,” noted Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno in an interview with Platts Energy Week. “The challenge, really, is to get all of them to work together seamlessly and safely.”

Salerno, a former vice admiral in the Coast Guard, noted the distinction between that complex offshore oil and gas hierarchy and a streamlined military operation, with more clearly defined roles and fewer side players.

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Relatively new bureau regulations are helping to ensure the varied companies involved in offshore oil and gas operations are on the same page when it comes to limiting risks and boosting safety, Salerno said. He pointed to the October 2011 mandate that all offshore operators have “safety and environmental management systems” to identify and reduce hazards and a later requirement that those programs be periodically audited.

The SEMS requirement and programs, Salerno said, are “the entrée for getting everybody to talk about how are we going to manage a process in a very safe way where everybody understands what’s supposed to happen and people are empowered to speak up if they see something going wrong.”

But, Salerno noted, it is a work in progress.

The first wave of third-party audits of those SEMS programs are being done now, after a first round that could be conducted by the operators themselves. Oil and gas companies have until June 4, 2015 to let outside auditors examine the government-mandated safety programs.

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The Center for Offshore Safety, a group launched by the American Petroleum Institute after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is focusing on SEMS issues, giving guidance to companies seeking to improve their own programs and helping to hone audit procedures.

“We haven’t reached the end goal,” Salerno said. “This is something that will need to be continually refined over the years, but fortunately, industry is stepping up to this as well. We’ve got people we can work with — not only individual companies but groups like the Center for Offshore Safety, which is a very critical partner for us in helping to advance this whole concept.”