Cantwell: New Oil Spill Drilling Regulations Must Be Tough and Comprehensive

Points out loophole; wants independent certification of offshore drilling equipment

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) proposed strengthening offshore oil and gas drilling safety measures recommended by Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. At an Energy and Natural Resources Senate Committee hearing, Cantwell pointed out a potential loophole in the report’s recommendations that could unintentionally exempt certain offshore drilling rigs from regulation. Many of the recommendations outlined in the report apply only to “Floating vessel” and “Floating drilling operations.” Cantwell pointed out that this language appears to omit a large portion of the rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico. She said the proposed regulations should apply to all “mobile offshore drilling units” – including barges, sunken platforms, or rigs attached to the seabed by jacks. Cantwell’s end goal is to have all offshore rigs under a tougher regulatory structure.
“Are you considering that definition and how to have it tighter to make sure we don’t have a loophole there?” Senator Cantwell asked Counselor to the Secretary of the Interior Steve Black.
“The recommendations are intended to cover all of the mobile drilling rigs,” Black responded. “We may need to get more information from you just to clarify that answer, but that is our intent.”
Senator Cantwell followed up with: “In the term and in definition I think you are missing some of those mobile offshore drilling units – I think a big number – so I think we should look at that.”
Cantwell also expressed concern over the report’s failure to require industry-wide comprehensive inspections and classifications of offshore drilling units. Instead, the Interior report recommends using a third-party to verify and validate technology in use in blow-out preventers. It does not require even considering a system for classification run by an entity such as the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).
Senator Cantwell: “You don’t want somebody looking just at a blow-out preventer and whether that works. You’re looking at the blow-out preventer as part of a system, and you want to understand whether the system is going to fail.”
Cantwell plans to introduce legislation that would require all offshore drilling systems in U.S. waters to undergo classification. This process would include not only the casing, blowout preventer, and safety equipment specified in the report, but also the entire drilling system from the surface rig to the wellhead on the seabed. ABS classification of drilling systems has been internationally recognized as an appropriate means for certifying drilling systems under the most stringent governmental offshore regulations around the world, including those governing the North Sea. Currently, these requirements are not mandatory within the United States, and Senator Cantwell believes that this classification needs to be mandatory moving forward in order to provide an additional level of safety in offshore drilling operations.
Ten days after the April 20, 2010 explosion and fire on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 of the 126 workers on board, President Obama directed Secretary Salazar to report within 30 days on how to improve the safety of oil exploration and production on the outer continental shelf (OCS). Salazar created the OCS Safety Oversight Board, made up of the Department’s Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management; the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget; and the Inspector General, and tasked that group with preparing the report. The report was peer reviewed by seven experts recommended by the National Academy of Engineering. The report, “Increased Safety Measurers for Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf” was released on May 27th and can be accessed through this link.
Cantwell is chair of the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over matters that impact our oceans, coasts and climate, and she also chairs the Energy Subcommittee.
Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s questioning today of Department of Interior officials.
High quality audio and video available upon request.