Congressmen express concerns over BSEE offshore well control rule

Two US House Republicans expressed concern over the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s offshore well control rule and recommended an additional 180 days for comments to address problems in the regulations.

“Allowing for [US Outer Continental Shelf] development and promoting a safe operating environment are not mutually exclusive, and it is vitally important to continue updates and improvements to existing safety regulations,” maintained Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Ken Calvert, who chairs the Appropriations Committee’s Interior, Environment, and Related Appropriations Subcommittee.

“However, these rules must be done well and done right,” they said in their Apr. 1 letter to Howard Shelanski, information and regulatory affairs administrator in the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the regulations.

BSEE now requires companies to submit both a description of well drilling criteria and a drilling prognosis which includes planned safe drilling margins for their operations to be approved, the lawmakers said.

“Under the current regulations, BSEE has regulated drilling margins safely—permitting 63% of the wells drilled since the Deepwater Horizon incident to use a margin below 0.5 ppg—without significant well control incidents or loss of containment,” they said.

Setting an arbitrary 0.5 ppg margin “that lacks any statistical evidence for its existence demonstrates adherence to an outmoded engineering practice,” the letter said. “Without a clear regulatory process that provides certainty for obtaining a permit to drill, especially if a drilling plan will likely require sub-0.5 ppg margins, companies will be unable to move forward on approving multibillion dollar investments to develop our nation’s offshore energy resources.”

Each well is different

A Natural Resources Committee Oct. 27, 2015, listening session with more than 40 technical experts showed that each well’s geological characteristics are different and drilling engineers make safety paramount as they develop drilling plans, Bishop and Calvert told Shelanski.

“What also became clear is that BSEE would have benefited greatly from collaboration with these experts as the rule included many technical flaws and ambiguous language that in some cases could impede safety rather than enhance it,” they asserted.

They also cited the Government Accountability Office’s recent report saying that the US Department of the Interior agency’s efforts to improve offshore oil and safety have made little progress, and BSEE continues to rely on incident policies and procedures that were in place before BP PLC’s Macondo deepwater well blew out and exploded, killing 11 people on Apr. 20, 2010 (OGJ Online, Mar. 16, 2016).

Bishop and Calvert sent their letter to OMB soon after Louisiana Gov. Jon Bel Edwards (D) and GOP members of the state’s US House delegation separately protested that BSEE’s well control rule would be too costly and could reduce oil and gas activity in the gulf substantially (OGJ Online, Apr. 4, 2016).

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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