Salazar unveils proposed new offshore SEMS rule

salazarnohatSecretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael R. Bromwich today announced a proposed Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) rule that they said will reduce the likelihood of accidents, injuries and spills in connection with offshore oil and natural gas exploration and development activities.

"As we continue to encourage balanced and responsible oil and gas development on the OCS, we must remain fully focused on continually strengthening safety standards to protect workers and to reduce the risk of accidents and spills," said Secretary Salazar. "Our goal is to ensure that safety is front and center every day, for every worker, on every project."

Erik Milito, director of the American Petroleum Institute's upstream group, said that API "will carefully review the proposed rules and looks forward to continuing to work with BOEMRE to ensure that requirements for workplace safety, the environment and continued energy production are met. Any additions to already intricate regulatory processes should allow for new exploration and responsible development of our domestic offshore energy resources without unpredictable barriers or delays."

The proposed Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) rule is part of a series of safety and environmental reforms implemented by the Department of the Interior since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Department says that the proposed rule, which enhances the Workplace Safety Rule issued in October 2010, will add greater protection by supplementing operators' SEMS programs with employee training, engaging personnel in safety management, and strengthening auditing procedures by requiring them to be completed by independent third parties.

A SEMS program is a comprehensive safety and environmental management program designed to reduce human and organizational errors that have been found to be the contributing or root cause of work-related accidents and offshore oil spills. SEMS programs apply to all oil and natural gas activities and facilities on the OCS including drilling, production, construction, well workover, well completion, well servicing, lifting activities and Department of the Interior (DOI) pipeline activities. In meetings with oil and gas operators, says BOEMRE, executives have expressed optimism regarding the implementation of the Workplace Safety Rule, which goes into effect in November 2011. These supplemental requirements, introduced today with an opportunity for significant public comment, enhance the rule with six additional items that operators should include in their comprehensive safety and environmental management programs:

  1. Additional requirements for conducting a Job Safety Analysis;
  2. Procedures to authorize any and all employees on the facility to implement a Stop Work Authority when witnessing an activity that creates a threat of danger to an individual, property and/or the environment;
  3. Clearly defined requirements establishing who has the ultimate work authority on the facility for operational safety and decision making at any given time;
  4. An employee participation program for SEMS implementation;
  5. Guidelines for reporting unsafe work conditions;
  6. A requirement that safety audits be conducted by third part auditors.

The notice is available for review in the Federal Register:

September 13, 2011

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