GAO urges USCG to develop offshore security inspection policies

The US Coast Guard has tried to address offshore oil and gas operations’ security issues, but could improve its process for managing security inspections, the US Government Accountability Office said in an Oct. 28 report. It urged the US Department of Homeland Security service’s commandant to ensure that annual inspections are conducted consistently by developing monitoring and tracking policies and procedures.

Such security requirements apply if a facility produces more than 100,000 b/d of oil or 200 MMcfd of natural gas, or hosts more than 150 persons for 12 hr or more in each 24-hr period continuously for 30 days or more, the report explained. Fifty-seven of the 3,900 facilities producing oil, gas, or minerals from federal offshore leases are covered, it said.

The report also contained recommendations for improving security at the four US deepwater oil and gas ports, two of which in the Gulf of Mexico and two which are in Massachusetts Bay. Unlike OCS production installations, these facilities enable tankers to unload crude oil or LNG for transportation ashore by underwater pipelines, it said.

Questions about federal regulations covering the security of offshore energy operations arose following the 2010 Macondo well incident and oil spill, despite security lapses apparently having nothing to do with the event, GAO said. “While the explosion was not the result of a breakdown in security procedures or a terrorist attack, other countries have experienced attacks by terrorists or other criminals on offshore energy infrastructure—facilities that produce, transport, or receive oil and gas,” it said.

The report also urged USCG’s commandant to improve the Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement’s database and guidance to make identification of both fixed and floating OCS facilities more accurate and consistent, and security inspections’ results consistently recorded for better data analysis and process management.

It also called on the commandant to ensure that deepwater ports’ security information can be used as a decision-making tool by issuing guidance on how data should be entered into MISLE, defining deepwater ports in MISLE guidance, and making any necessary changes to ensure that regulated ports can be identified within MISLE.

Foreign-flagged MODUs

USCG also has limited security authority over mobile offshore drilling units (MODU), which are registered outside the US, GAO said. While MODUs operating on the US OCS generally implement security measures in accordance with US regulations and the International Maritime Organization’s ISPS Code, a foreign-flagged MODU’s particular characteristics and operations—such as its propulsion method or personnel levels—may make it exempt, it indicated.

It said when USCG and the US Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, and Regulation jointly investigated the Macondo well incident, USCG found that its regulatory scheme for foreign-flagged MODUs fell short because it deferred heavily to the vessel’s flag state to ensure safety. While this could work if the flag state’s inspections were comparable to those by USCG, it did not in the case of the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig, which drilled the Macondo well, because of deficiencies in the way the country where the vessel was registered conducted inspections, the report said.

GAO said the USCG-BOEMRE joint investigative team included in its recommendations that USCG’s commandant develop more comprehensive inspection standards for foreign-flagged MODUs operating on the US OCS, and that the commandant concurred and chartered an OCS activities matrix team which is developing recommendations on establishing and implementing such enhanced oversight.

“While the investigation focused on issues that were not related to security, such as safety, these findings may have implications for security oversight because [USCG] also relies on the flag state to carry out responsibilities for assessing compliance with security requirements,” the report said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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