GAO: BSEE makes little progress on offshore oil, gas reforms

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s ongoing efforts to improve offshore oil and gas regulatory enforcement have been compromised by limited progress in improving its investigation capabilities, a US Government Accountability Office report concluded.

The US Department of the Interior agency continues to rely on incident policies and procedures in place before the 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout and crude oil spill, the Mar. 11 report said.

“Specifically, BSEE has not completed a policy outlining investigative responsibilities or updated procedures for investigating incidents—among the goals of BSEE’s restructuring, according to restructuring planning documents, and consistent with federal standards for internal control,” it said.

GAO’s report said BSEE’s use of outdated investigative policies and procedures is a long-standing deficiency. Investigations following the 2010 event found that policies and procedures “did not include requirements for planning investigations, gathering and documenting evidence, and ensuring quality control, and determined that their continued use posed a risk to the effectiveness of bureau investigations,” it said.

“Without completing and updating its investigative policies and procedures, BSEE continues to face this risk,” the report warned. It recommended that the agency, among other steps:

• Complete and update its investigative policies and procedures.

• Conduct and document a risk analysis of the regional-based reporting structure.

• Develop procedures for enforcement actions.

In a Jan. 27 response to a draft of GAO’s report, Janice M. Schneider, assistant US Interior secretary for land and minerals management, said both DOI and the agency agree on “the importance of accountability at the national level, the need for documented policies and procedures to ensure consistency across regions, and the necessity of elevating key functions to improve their effectiveness in pursuing BSEE’s mission.”

The agency’s current realignment follows recommends from reviews after the Macondo incident and spill by using a national program model in which BSEE’s headquarters establishes the program direction and the field offices carry it out, Schneider said. “Implementation of this model will be supported by clear, bureau-wide policy, the establishment of related performance measures, and internal accountability,” Schneider said.

“BSEE is committed to continuing work in resolving deficiencies in oversight,” she said. “It is a significant cultural shift to move from a largely decentralized field organization to one with national-level direction, monitoring, and accountability. The National Program Management Structure is an important step in this direction, and BSEE will work to make this transition successful and evaluate its effectiveness.”

US Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said, in Mar. 15 floor remarks responding to DOI’s proposed 2017-22 US Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas plan which deleted a 2021 Atlantic lease sale (OGJ Online, Mar. 15, 2016), that the GAO report “found a federal safety regulator…to be asleep at the switch.”

Nelson also asked Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) and Ranking Minority Member Maria A. Cantwell (D-Wash.) in a separate letter to investigate BSEE based on the report’s findings, which he said amount to “a startling lack of preparedness, and potentially, an ineffective regulator ready to handle an oil spill in US waters.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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