Salazar proposes formation of ocean energy safety institute

US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar proposed the establishment of an ocean energy safety institute to facilitate research and development, training, and implementation of safe standards and practices.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Nov. 2 -- US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar proposed the establishment of an ocean energy safety institute to facilitate research and development, training, and implementation of safe standards and practices. The idea is a response to the Apr. 20 Macondo well blowout and rig explosion, which took 11 lives, and subsequent massive oil spill that took months to control and contain, he explained on Nov. 2.

The institute would involve other parts of the federal government, particularly the US Department of Energy and US Coast Guard, as well as experts from the oil and gas industry, academia, and the scientific community, according to Salazar. “[It] would serve to coordinate and institutionalize the lessons and strategies learned from the oil spill so that the United States can stay at the forefront of drilling safety, containment, and spill response,” he said.

He said the institute would be housed at Interior because of the department’s regulatory responsibilities through its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. But it would try to coordinate and prioritize research dollars from a variety of governmental and nongovernmental sources to ensure that the US remains at the forefront of offshore energy safety, he indicated.

Salazar said the institute would create a transparent organization that builds on the strategic collaboration of its members to address technological needs and inherent risks associated with offshore drilling, and deepwater drilling in particular.

He said its specific goals would include advancing safe and environmentally responsible offshore drilling through collaborative research and development in the areas of drilling safety, containment and spill response; developing advanced drilling technology testing and implementation protocols; understanding full-system risk and reliability for the offshore environment; and developing an enduring R&D capability and an expertise base for preventing and responding to accidents.

Other responsibilities
The institute also would develop training and emergency response exercises; increase opportunities for communication and coordination; develop a larger cadre of technical experts to oversee or otherwise participate in deepwater drilling-related activities; establish cost-effective advances in technology; and create a framework for regulatory predictability in a global market, Salazar said.

He said he has reached out to potential partners in government, industry, and elsewhere to discuss the proposal, and asked that they respond by Nov. 30.

A long-time Washington industry representative was skeptical. “I think the industry is underwhelmed by the proposal. People were polite and restrained,” he told OGJ. “The fact that the secretary called everyone to Washington on 2 days’ notice shows how committed he is to coordination and communication. It seems ad hoc and not very well thought out.”

He said oil and gas industry associations will formally respond, but added that he considers the proposal a redundant that potentially could grow out of control. “The industry already has vast resources that consider these same issues, and the federal government has several committees that already consider them,” he maintained.

“Trying to consolidate best practices of engineering and training under a new umbrella could create confusion,” he continued. “Industry also stays ahead of the government, with think tanks and internal resources such as the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended standards and practices development program and the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ ongoing conferences and workshops around the world.”

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