Interior issues proposed well control rules for offshore oil and gas development

In response to the findings of investigations into the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, and following a thorough evaluation of recommendations from industry groups, equipment manufacturers, federal agencies, academia and environmental organizations, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced proposed regulations to better protect human lives and the environment from oil spills.

The measures include more stringent design requirements and operational procedures for critical well control equipment used in offshore oil and gas operations.

The proposed rule, which will be open for public comments, addresses the range of systems and equipment related to well control operations. The measures are designed to improve equipment reliability, building upon enhanced industry standards for blowout preventers and blowout prevention technologies. The rule also includes reforms in well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time well monitoring and subsea containment.

The well control measures would implement multiple recommendations from various investigations and reports of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, including the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation-Forensic Equipment Analysis (September 2011); National Academy of Engineering (May 2012); National Oil Spill Commission (January 2011); Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee; Government Accountability Office and others. Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) thoroughly analyzed the results of the investigations, including nearly 370 specific recommendations, and conducted extensive outreach to derive further enhancements from stakeholder input, academia, and industry best practices, standards and specifications.

The blowout preventer, an essential piece of safety equipment used in offshore drilling operations, was a point of failure in the Deepwater Horizon event, but several other barriers failed as well. The cascade of multiple failures resulted in the loss of well control, an explosion, fire and subsequent months-long spill. In connection with this rulemaking, BSEE worked with a wide array of stakeholders to comprehensively address well control measures and equipment, Interior said in a news release.

The Outer Continental Shelf is a critical component of our nation’s energy portfolio, accounting for more than 16 percent of the Nation’s oil production and about five percent of domestic natural gas production – bringing in revenues of over $7.4 billion dollars to the U.S. Treasury in 2014. There are more floating deepwater drilling rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico today than prior to the Deepwater Horizon spill, and drilling activity is expected to steadily increase over the coming year.

The public may submit comments on the proposed regulations during the 60-day comment period that begins April 15, 2015, when the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. Comments may be submitted via regulations.gov, the federal government’s official rulemaking portal.