Cantwell's Amendment Improving Offshore Oil Drilling Safety Approved by Key Committee

Amendment requires top-to-bottom, third-party certification of all drilling systems

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) amendment to significantly improve oversight and safety of offshore oil drilling rigs. Under current regulations, a full, top-to-bottom third-party certification of drilling systems is not legally mandated in the United States, as it is in Norway and other countries. The U.S. government only requires independent verification of limited categories of offshore systems. The result is that much critical drilling and safety technology in use offshore, such as blowout preventers, lacks third-party oversight or certification. Cantwell’s amendment would fill that regulatory gap by requiring all components of offshore drilling rigs to undergo a comprehensive surface-to-seabed review by independent technical and engineering experts. These third-party experts would be charged with ensuring that system design, construction, use, and maintenance meet the strictest safety standards. Owners and operators of offshore rigs would be required to meet certification standards. Equipment or procedures that fail to receive certification would be barred from use in U.S. waters.
“Defective offshore drilling systems have the potential to wreak havoc on our coastal communities. We simply can’t afford to have gaps in the regulations and oversight of these systems, because the economy and environment of our ocean and coastal regions depend on their safe operation,” Senator Cantwell said. “As the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates, more thorough and comprehensive oversight is long overdue. By requiring a full, top-to-bottom, third-party certification of all offshore drilling systems, this amendment ensures increased safety and protection for our coastal communities and environments exposed to the potential threats of offshore drilling.”
Under Cantwell’s amendment, regulations implementing the new requirements will be written jointly by both the Department of Interior and the U.S. Coast Guard. The change corrects a confusing situation in which Interior had jurisdiction over subsea systems while the Coast Guard regulated surface systems. Cantwell’s amendment was added to (S.3516) the Outer Continental Shelf Reform Act of 2010 (OCSRA), in a 14-9 vote by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. OCSRA, introduced by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), reforms the management of energy and mineral resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.  The full bill, including the added text of Cantwell’s amendment, was also passed today by the full committee.
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.