Acting MMS director outlines additional OCS requirements

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 3 -- Offshore oil and gas operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations in their exploration and development plans before drilling any new wells on the US Outer Continental Shelf, Acting US Minerals Management Service Director Robert V. Abbey said on June 2.

E&D plans already approved by MMS, including those using categorical exclusions to National Environmental Policy Act environmental assessment requirements, will need to be resubmitted, added Abbey, who also is continuing in his capacity as US Bureau of Land Management director.

Abbey said his directive, which will be relayed to operators and leaseholders through a notice to lessees, will establish separate requirements for deep water and shallow water E&D plans.

Abbey’s announcement made clear that after the deepwater drilling moratorium ends, any new drilling must be under an E&D plan that considers new safety and environmental requirements and recommendations of President Barack Obama’s independent commission investigation the BP-Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.

Operations in less than 500 ft of water may move forward if they satisfy new safety and environmental requirements identified in the 30-day report US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar submitted to Obama on May 27, according to Abbey. Any new shallow-water drilling must be under an E&D plan that includes information demonstrating compliance with the new safety standard, he added.

Abbey said he would issue the directive under his authority as acting MMS director to ensure that OCS operations are conducted in a safe and workmanlike manner to prevent injury or loss of life, and to prevent damage to any natural resource or the environment.

Abbey also reiterated that Congress needs to approve the White House’s proposal to change to 90 days the 30-day limit for reviewing offshore exploration plans under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. DOI and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality also are jointly reviewing MMS’s use of categorical exclusions, he noted.

“The approach I am announcing today is not an ideal solution, but it is an interim strategy that MMS will employ until Congress fixes the law and until additional reform recommendations from CEQ and DOI are developed and implemented,” said Abbey.

Salazar named Abbey interim MMS director on May 28 following S. Elizabeth Birnbaum’s resignation a day earlier. Abbey remains BLM director as he directs MMS’s reorganization but has turned over daily management duties at BLM to deputy director Mike Poole.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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