Offshore Oil, Gas Safety Agency Defends Its Performance

Credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg.
The Kobe Chouest platform supply vessel sits anchored next to Chevron's Jack/St. Malo deepwater oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in the aerial photograph taken off the coast of Louisiana on 18 May 2018.

The Interior Department is pushing back against allegations it’s not doing enough to protect offshore drilling safety.

The recent charges in a report by the environmental group Oceana match up with those of Democrats in Congress who have been trying—with limited success—to spotlight what they consider to be poor performance at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

The Trump administration has said more offshore drilling is important for economic growth and energy security and is set to release the draft of its new 5-year drilling plan soon. Both the congressional Democrats and Oceana want to stop the expansion of offshore drilling. 

Not Enough Staff?

In its report, Oceana said the approximately 120 inspectors at BSEE aren’t enough to conduct more than 20,000 inspections annually.

The agency also has had trouble hiring new employees because of competition from better-paying oil and gas companies, Oceana said, referencing BSEE’s own fiscal 2020 budget justification.

Bureau spokeswoman Tiffany Gray didn’t contest the inspector count but said that figure is roughly twice what it was in 2010.

Further, BSEE is conducting roughly 16% more offshore inspections than it did in 2016, reaching 9,800 in fiscal 2018, Gray told Bloomberg Environment.

Gray said the discrepancy between its 9,800 inspections and the 20,000 listed in a January 2018 agency fact sheet arose because of a change in the way the bureau counts inspections and whether the term “inspection” refers to the overall system inspection or also to the inspection of individual components and safety devices.

The agency is working to finalize a new, consistent way of counting inspections and expects that “going forward we will get a clearer picture of our overall inspection activities,” Gray said.

Inspectors also spent 6.1% more time physically inspecting facilities in the Outer Continental Shelf from April to December 2018 than they did over the same months in 2016, Gray said.

She further defended the agency against Oceana’s charge that it uses industry-written standards.

The report said the agency’s rules let the oil and gas industry “govern itself without adequate independent oversight.”

Under the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, BSEE is required to incorporate industry standards, Gray said.

BSEE didn’t respond to other parts of the Oceana report, such as the finding that the agency referred only 38 of 2,643 incidents of noncompliance in 2016 to the civil penalty process.

“This shows there is a financial incentive to ignore regulatory compliance and cut corners to protect profits,” Oceana’s report said.

Read the full story here.



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