Report calls for independent offshore oil and gas safety organization

A report issued by the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine called on the US oil and gas industry to establish an independent organization dedicated to offshore safety and environmental protection, with no advocacy role.

The report suggested that the Center for Offshore Safety, which the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups formed after the 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout and crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, could be made independent to serve this purpose. All organizations working in the US offshore oil and gas industry could be required to join, it said.

It said that about 75 well operators, 17 drilling contractors, and more than 1,000 service and supply contractors and subcontractors varying in size and financial resources support offshore drilling, production, and construction activities in the gulf.

Because of differing safety perspectives and economic interests, offshore oil and gas firms do not all belong to a single industry association that speaks with one voice regarding safety, the May 23 report said.

Several challenges exist in setting and implementing consistent goals for safety practices and culture, including organization leaders’ varied commitments to having a strong safety culture, the variety of organizations that may work on a single drilling site, making practices such as supervision and training more heterogeneous, and the diversity of employees’ safety attitudes and educational backgrounds, it indicated.

“Because the industry is fragmented, it is necessary to work with a coalition of key stakeholders,” the report said. “Compliance by itself is insufficient; proactive collective action is needed from a coalition of willing parties. This is especially likely to be the case in the offshore oil and gas industry given the sheer number of groups charged with its operation and the regulators’ limited ability to impose changes.”

Use available resources

Companies’ senior leaders should ensure that their organizations take advantage of resources available from other companies, industry associations, and regulators in strengthening their own safety cultures, it recommended. “Smaller companies can reach out to their larger customers or industry groups to obtain information on establishing or strengthening safety culture and to learn of success stories from those who have created a safe working environment,” it said.

It also urged industry leaders to encourage collective and collaborative action to make changes in the fragmented offshore industry. “A starting point is to engage personally and encourage key employees to participate in industry organizations, conferences, benchmarking opportunities, standards-setting groups, pilot projects, and exchanges of information and lessons learned,” it said.

The report said leaders from API and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers, the Center for Offshore Safety, and other groups should join with leaders from the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the US Coast Guard, and the US Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration early in the process.

It would help to have a focal organization that is sufficiently independent and can engage the entire industry,” the report noted. “There is an opportunity for BSEE and other regulators to provide encouragement and leadership, but demands from a regulator are likely to be met with resistance from the industry. Regulators can help convene senior industry leaders and experts to craft a vision, provide feedback and encouragement, reinforce well-intentioned actions, and coach from the sidelines,” it said.

The report also recommended that:

• The industry as a whole make use of offshore safety culture knowledge and experiences of organizations that are moving ahead already and trying new approaches.

• The industry overall create additional guidance for establishing safety culture expectations and responsibilities among operators, contractors, and subcontractors.

• The industry work with regulators to consider changes in policy (and laws when necessary, such as modifying any that inhibit information flow between operators and contractors) that would help accelerate safety improvements, including information exchanges, cooperation across operators and contractors, and protection of all personnel from retaliation if they speak up.

• Regulators and industry participants work to facilitate research and information sharing on ways to share industry-level data more fully, analyze positive cases, define what factors matter most, and systematically study safety improvements among offshore oil and gas companies of all sizes.

“Successful culture change is a long-term effort, entailing considerable uncertainties and investments,” said Nancy Tippins, principal consultant at CEB and chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “It is essential that industry and regulators go beyond ideas and possibilities, and develop concrete plans for creating a commitment to a culture that establishes and maintains a safe working environment.”

Copies of the full report are available online from the National Academies Press at nap.edu.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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