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DOI Issues Offshore Well Control Regs

"The well control rule is a vital part of our extensive reform agenda to strengthen, update, and modernize our offshore energy program using lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon," Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said.

The U.S. Department of the Interior released final regulations April 14 for well control on offshore installations, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Brian Salerno saying they are intended to reduce the risk of an oil or gas blowout that could result in fatalities, serious injuries, or substantial harm to the environment. They said the new regulations are one of the most significant safety and environmental protection reforms the department has undertaken since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010.

"The well control rule is a vital part of our extensive reform agenda to strengthen, update, and modernize our offshore energy program using lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon," Jewell said. "I applaud BSEE for their work to develop a rule that takes into consideration an intensive analysis of the causes of the tragedy, advances in industry standards, best practices, as well as an unprecedented level of stakeholder outreach."

According to DOI, the final rule addresses all dimensions of well control, including more stringent design requirements and operating procedures for critical well control equipment used in oil and gas operations on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. This includes blowout preventer requirements, well design, well control casing, cementing, real-time monitoring, and subsea containment. The rule requires testing to ensure operability of the equipment and provides for continuous oversight of operations, as well as third-party reviews of equipment, real-time monitoring data, safe drilling margins, centralizers, inspection intervals, and other reforms.

"We listened extensively to industry and other stakeholders and heard their concerns loud and clear -- about drilling margins, blowout preventer inspections, accumulator capacity, and real-time monitoring," Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider said. "This rule includes both prescriptive and performance-based standards that are based on this extensive engagement and analysis."

BSEE held an offshore energy safety forum in May 2012 and later conducted more than 50 meetings with industry groups, trade associations, regulators, operators, equipment manufacturers, and environmental organizations, receiving more than 5,000 pages of technical comments from stakeholder. "We have made it a priority to engage with industry to strengthen our understanding of emerging technology, to participate with standards development organizations, and to seek out the perspectives of other stakeholders," Salerno said. "We collected best practices on preventing well control incidents and blowouts to inform the development of this rule. As a result, this is one of the most comprehensive offshore safety and environmental protection rules ever developed by the Department of the Interior."

The Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors and other stakeholders are weighing the impact of the new regulations. IADC President Jason McFarland issued a statement saying in part: "As the owners of drilling rigs and blowout preventers, IADC members are acutely impacted by this rule. Since BSEE issued its initial proposal last year, our members have participated in joint industry work groups to carefully consider each of the points of the lengthy and detailed Well Control Rule, and submitted comments several months ago. Those comments addressed serious issues with some of the technical requirements of the proposed rule, the timing of its implementation and what was determined to be an underestimation of the estimated costs of the proposed requirements. IADC's subject matter experts will, over the next several days, continue to digest the technical aspects of the rule to determine its implications. Our hope, of course, is that BSEE took into consideration the meticulous work of so many industry experts in composing a final rule that enables safe offshore drilling activities without imposing undue financial hardship on those who operate on the outer continental shelf. What often gets lost in this discussion is how much work the industry has done since the Macondo incident to improve offshore safety. This industry did not wait for BSEE to issue regulations to make major changes to our operations and procedures. IADC members are committed to safety and have developed and implemented major changes with regard to equipment, procedures and safety protocols to protect against future well control incidents."

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