Bromwich: Divided BOEMRE will be more, not less, efficient

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, July 15 -- The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement has tried to clearly delineate safety and environmental responsibilities as it prepares to split into two separate agencies on Oct. 1, BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich told a US House committee.

“We’re going to have a very aggressive outreach program with producers, with workshops operators can attend and ask questions,” he said. “From now, when they see two agencies, to after Oct. 1, when they’ll be dealing with two, they won’t see any difference. They’ll be dealing with the same people.”

The new Bureau of Offshore Energy Management (BOEM) will primarily promote and manage development of offshore oil, gas, and alternative energy resources, while the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) will handle safety and environmental regulatory compliance, Bromwich told the US House Natural Resources Committee.

BSEE’s responsibilities will include oil and gas permitting, facility inspections, regulations and standards development, safety research, field operations, environmental compliance and enforcement, reviews of operators’ oil spill response plans, production and development conservation, and operation of a national training center, he said.

“There is virtually no plan review at all which is going to be undertaken within BSEE,” Bromwich said. “My understanding is that plans will begin and end in BOEM, and that permitting under plans will be under BSEE.”

In a ‘slow-atorium’
Republicans on the committee were skeptical. John Fleming (La.) suggested that BOEMRE wants to be larger and more involved in offshore energy resource management and regulation, but runs the risk of becoming so cumbersome as it divides that it becomes significantly less efficient. “After a moratorium and permit-torium, we’re in the midst of a slow-atorium where everything is being slow-walked,” he said.

Bromwich responded, “We needed to weigh various options, and one of our primary considerations was making certain nothing would get in the way of our making decisions. “We’ve subjected a lot of people to a lot of change very quickly by creating a lot of new rules they need to apply, and changing the organization’s structure. There are a lot of new features, including a training academy for inspectors and new environmental enforcement under BESE.”

Bromwich said the agency, as it has restructured, relied on outside recommendations it received in the past year. BOEMRE probably became the most-examined federal agency following the Macondo deepwater gulf oil well blowout and subsequent spill, and it formed a set of teams to primarily focus on issues that were raised, he told the committee. “We’re focused not just on structures or organizational boxes, but improvements,” Bromwich said, adding, “It’s not just me—it’s the bulk of the people in the agency who want to improve the way we do business.”

BOEM and BSEE each will have what he described as a small, but potent, policy analysis office to examine processes and recommend reforms, Bromwich said. The only recommendation from US President Obama’s independent oil spill commission that BOEMRE isn’t following was to convey safety recommendations directly to the US Interior secretary, according to Bromwich. He said the agency considered this less efficient than acting on them itself.

Committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said proposals have been made to codify federal offshore energy resource management changes that already have taken place administratively. “What you are doing under the secretary’s order is important to the industry,” he told Bromwich, adding, “We are exploring the idea of organic legislation, which will be more responsive to this country’s energy needs.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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