DOI asks offshore operators for more blowout information

The US Department of the Interior notified federal offshore oil and gas leaseholders and operators that they will be required to submit information about how they would address a possible blowout when they apply for a drilling a permit or file an exploration plan or development plan. They also would need to detail steps they are taking to prevent blowouts.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 19 – The US Department of the Interior notified federal offshore oil and gas leaseholders and operators that they will be required to submit information about how they would address a possible blowout when they apply for a drilling a permit or file an exploration plan or development plan. They also would need to detail steps they are taking to prevent blowouts.

“The BP oil spill has laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry’s ability to prevent and stop catastrophic blowouts,” said US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as he announced the notice on June 18. “While the challenges of intervening in a catastrophic blowout are significantly greater in deep water than in shallow water, all operators should provide basic information about potential blowouts, and steps that are being taken to reduce the possibility of a blowout.”

The directive reversed a policy adopted in 2003 and included in a 2008 notice that exempted many offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico from submitting certain information with their exploration or development plans about a blowout scenario and worst-case discharge, he noted. “This is basic information that applicants should be able to provide; it should not delay permitting of appropriate shallow water drilling,” Salazar added.

The notice came more than 2 weeks after acting US Minerals Management Service Director Robert V. Abbey DOI said offshore oil and gas operators would 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.

Abbey is due to return to the US Bureau of Land Management as its director full-time on June 21 when Michael R. Bromwich, who was appointed by US President Barack Obama to direct MMS’s reforms and reorganization, takes the agency’s helm.

Under the latest notice, an operator will have to submit information including a potential blowout’s estimated flow rate, total volume, and maximum duration; estimates of the time necessary to contract for a rig, move it to the drilling site, and drill a relief well; and a description of the assumptions and calculations used to determine the volume in a worst-case scenario.

Operators also will need to discuss the well’s potential to bridge over, the likelihood for surface intervention to stop the blowout, the availability of a rig to drill a relief well, and rig package constraints, DOI indicated.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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