API addresses major questions concerning offshore rig accident, oil spill

Source: American Petroleum Institute

Q: What happened to the Deepwater Horizon rig? What are the potential environmental consequences? 

A: We don’t know for sure yet, but investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard and other state and government agencies are on the scene. Results from the investigation will be used by the industry, in cooperation with regulators, to reduce the chances that incidents such as this one happen again. 

Q: Were there any previous safety violations or incidents with the Deepwater Horizon rig? 

A: The Deepwater Horizon was one of five Transocean ships given safety awards by the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) in 2009, and that the ship was inspected three times since January by the regional MMS office and found to be in compliance. 

Q: News reports indicate that API and others in the industry opposed new safety regulations proposed by the Mineral Management Service in September 2009? Does API and the industry oppose new safety regulations? 

A: Neither API nor its member companies oppose safety regulations. API supports the development of safety management systems and expressed concern to the government about the potential effectiveness of the proposed safety regulations. 

Strong, comprehensive, and effective safety and environmental management systems are vital to drilling operations. API and industry companies voluntarily developed and continue to maintain Recommended Practice 75, Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program for Offshore Operations and Facilities. This document was originally developed in 1993, with a third edition published in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2008, and its guidance is followed by many Gulf of Mexico operators. The MMS proposal would adopt only portions of this document, while re-writing other provisions. We are concerned that this ultimately could work counter to the goal of safe and environmentally sound operations. API and the industry will continue to work with MMS, the Coast Guard and other agencies to ensure that any regulations first and foremost protect the workers. 

During the past several decades, API has brought together the best minds in the industry and at the MMS to develop dozens of standards and best practice documents that contain guidance and recommendations to address safety concerns. Both the MMS and the Coast Guard often incorporate industry standards into their regulations, giving them the force of law, and the standards and recommended practices are regularly reviewed and updated. 

Q: What is the offshore oil and natural gas industry’s record when it comes to worker safety and accidents? 

A: According to MMS data, the overall safety and environmental performance on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has shown steady improvement over the past decade. Between 1996 and 2008, for combined operations on the OCS, the recordable lost workday incident rates fell from a 3.39 rate in 1996 to a 0.64 rate in 2008 – a reduction of more than 80 percent. 

Q: What does the oil and natural gas industry do to safeguard against oil spills? 

A: Offshore oil and gas exploration and production operations have been successfully and safely conducted in the U.S. since the 1940s. Since that time, industry, government and oil spill response organizations in the United States have worked together to develop an effective oil spill prevention, preparedness and response regime that is recognized for excellence around the world. 

Under federal law, all companies with offshore facilities must file oil spill contingency plans with the MMS and emergency response plans with the U.S. Coast Guard. Companies must ensure that spill response equipment is available and properly maintained, and that employees are adequately trained. Federal and state agencies conduct drills and inspections to ensure response capabilities are maintained at a high level. 

Additionally, specialized spill prevention equipment, such as blowout preventers, are installed at the wellhead during the drilling phase to control pressure in the well should there be an unexpected rise in pressure or a loss of well control. Blowout preventers are critical to offshore safety and are inspected and tested regularly. 

Q: In the event of an oil spill, what measures does the oil and natural gas industry take to minimize damage? 

A: Every day, a network of tanker ships, pipelines and trucks safely delivers millions of gallons of oil and natural gas to fuel the American economy. Spills are rare, but when they do occur, the oil and natural gas industry and U.S. government work together to employ the world’s leading preparedness planning and response capabilities to minimize environmental harm. 

The industry’s primary response objectives are to prevent the spill from moving onto shore, to reduce the impact on marine life and to speed the degradation of any unrecovered oil. Companies use several approaches to alleviate the spill. This can include using booms to divert or contain oil to be recovered via skimmers or simply burned off and the use of dispersants and sorbents. The industry spends many millions of dollars annually funding oil spill response entities that rapidly deploy necessary equipment and materials to contain a spill should one occur. 

Q: How does the oil and natural gas industry work to ensure safety in its offshore operations? 

A: Safety is a core value for the oil and natural gas industry. API and our member companies follow and constantly improve best practices for safe offshore operations, including training, operational procedures, regulations, industry standards and technology. The industry works closely with local, state and federal regulators, including the Coast Guard and the MMS, to help ensure a strong focus on safety. 

Stringent regulatory oversight helps maintain environmental performance, as offshore operators must obtain 17 major federal permits and must comply with 90 sets of regulations to operate on the federal Outer Continental Shelf. MMS and the Coast Guard conduct tens of thousands of offshore facility inspections annually. 

Q: What is the oil and natural gas industry doing to improve workplace safety? 

A: Safety is an integral part of the oil and natural gas industry’s culture and a core value that calls for continual improvement. Offshore operators and contractors have comprehensive management programs that assess safety and environmental hazards system wide and establish procedures, work practices, training programs, and equipment requirements, including monitoring and maintenance rules, for continuous improvement. 

The industry uses a variety of technologies and equipment to protect workers and the environment. Computers monitor thousands of operating checkpoints and instantly flag any abnormal condition. Electronic systems allow workers to monitor systems and remotely operate equipment from a distance, including unmanned underwater vehicles to install and maintain equipment. 

Q: In light of this spill, should we move forward with a push to increase offshore development? 

A: As the White House and other political leaders have noted, the reality is that we will need more oil and natural gas now and for decades to come. Producing our own energy helps increase the nation’s energy security, creates American jobs and generates government revenues. That is why President Obama has said that he remains committed to his plan to expand offshore drilling. 

Q: In light of this accident, can we safely develop these resources? 

A: Offshore oil and gas exploration and production operations have been successfully and safely conducted in the U.S. since the 1940s. Since that time, industry, government and oil spill response organizations in the United States have worked together to develop an effective oil spill prevention, preparedness and response regime that is recognized for excellence around the world. 

The strong environmental performance of U.S. offshore production facilities was demonstrated in 2005 during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when the industry was able to safely evacuate its workers and shut down production of more than 3,000 offshore platforms that withstood winds gusts over 200 mph without any significant offshore spills. 

The industry’s commitment to advanced technology and safe operations protects America’s natural resources, while reinforcing the petroleum industry’s commitment to the safe production and delivery of energy products with the lightest environmental footprint possible. 

Q: What is API’s role in ensuring the safety of offshore drilling operations? 

A: API is a leader in the development of industry standards and practices to improve offshore operational safety. In all, API has produced dozens of standards and best practices related to drilling equipment and offshore operations, which contribute to safer working environments. Many of these standards are cited by the U.S. Minerals Management Service in their regulations. API is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and is audited regularly to ensure it continues to meet all ANSI requirements.

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