Environmental Protection

Interior Secretary Announces New Drilling Rules

The Interior Department's secretary, Ken Salazar, announced two new rules recently that soon will be published in the Federal Register and will increase the safety of offshore oil and gas operations, he said during his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, D.C. Each of the rules issued by the department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement will make mandatory the currently voluntary provisions of an American Petroleum Institute standard, but they go further than that.

API's RP 65 is the standard involved in the Drilling Safety Rule, while all provisions of RP 75 will be incorporated in the Workplace Safety Rule. The latter applies to all offshore oil and gas operations in federal waters and will require each operator to develop and follow a 13-point Safety and Environmental Management System.

"These new rules and the aggressive reform agenda we have undertaken are raising the bar for the oil and gas industry's safety and environmental practices on the Outer Continental Shelf," Salazar said. "Under these new rules, operators will need to comply with tougher requirements for everything from well design and cementing practices to blowout preventers and employee training. They will also need to develop comprehensive plans to manage risks and hazards at every step of the drilling process, so as to reduce the risk of human error."

The 13 elements of a Safety and Environmental Management System are:

  • General provisions for implementation, planning, and management review
  • Safety and environmental information, such as flow diagrams and design data
  • Hazard analysis
  • Management of change
  • Operating procedures
  • Safe work practices, including manuals, standards, and rules of conduct
  • Training
  • Mechanical integrity, including preventive maintenance and quality control
  • Pre-startup review of all systems
  • Emergency response and control, including evacuation plans and oil spill contingency plans, in place and validated by drills
  • Incident investigation
  • Audits, with an initial two-year re-evaluation followed by three-year audit intervals
  • Records and documentation

"These two rules are part of a broader series of reforms we are undertaking to reduce the risks of offshore energy operations," said Michael R. Bromwich, the bureau's director. "We are substantially raising the standards for all offshore operators and are doing it in an orderly and responsible way. We will continue to move forward with other changes and reforms in what will remain a dynamic regulatory environment. We owe the public nothing less."

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