Government, industry work to bolster safety of offshore operations

Published on September 11, 2023 by Kim Riley

Credit: Hellan Strainer

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) recently announced new measures to enhance worker safety and ensure offshore oil and gas operations on the Outer Continental Shelf are conducted with strict safety and oversight standards, action that the industry also takes very seriously.

“The Biden-Harris administration is committed to the highest standards of worker safety and environmental protections,” said DOI Secretary Deb Haaland in a recent statement. “These improvements are necessary to ensure offshore operations, especially those related to well integrity and blowout prevention, are based on the best available sound science.”

The DOI’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued its final well control rule on Aug. 23 to revise certain regulatory provisions published in the 2019 final well control rule for drilling, workover, completion, and decommissioning operations. 

BSEE finalized the revisions to clarify blowout preventer (BOP) system requirements and to modify certain specific BOP equipment capability requirements. The final rule will provide consistency and clarity to industry regarding the BOP equipment and associated operational requirements necessary for BSEE review and approval, and will further ensure operations are conducted safely and in an environmentally responsible manner, Haaland said.

“Finalizing this rule will enable BSEE to continue to put the lives and livelihoods of workers first, as well as the protection of our waters and marine habitats,”  added BSEE Director Kevin Sligh. 

The new final rule incorporates key lessons learned from operator experience, incident data regarding BOPs, and well integrity since the BSEE published its 2016 rule. It also revises or rescinds certain modifications that were made in its 2019 rule, according to the Department of the Interior.

Specifically, the final well control rule strengthens testing and performance requirements for BOPs and other well control equipment, provides for timely and robust analyses and investigations into failures, and “clarifies reporting requirements to ensure we have appropriate visibility over information and data critical to maintaining well integrity,” Sligh said.

Government standards

Sandy Day, the BSEE’s National Press Secretary in Washington, D.C., explained that the BSEE coordinates with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on programmatic National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses that assess all offshore energy operations on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), including the direct, cumulative, and accidental impacts that could occur.

“The NEPA analyses address requirements and protections provided under other federal regulations including, but not limited to, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, and leads to mitigation measures and Conditions of Approval that the energy companies and their contractors are required to follow to help reduce or negate avoidable impacts,” Day told Daily Energy Insider.

Once an operation is approved, BSEE’s Environmental Compliance Program uses a combination of office compliance verification reviews and field inspections to confirm the companies’ compliance with those environmental standards.

“Our scientists and engineers review monitoring reports during activities, review post-activity submittals for completed operations, conduct field inspections, and review unplanned events for impacts to environmental resources on the OCS,” said Day. 

To ensure environmental safety in the industry, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires offshore energy and marine minerals activities be carried out in a manner that provides for the protection of the environment. The OCSLA regulations govern BSEE’s conventional energy program, according to Day.

“BSEE’s environmental compliance reviews and inspections are used to confirm a companies’ compliance with environmental law, regulations, and conditions of approval,” he said. “Should issues be identified, the findings of the reviews are used for enforcement and developed into corrective actions to bring the companies back into compliance.” 

Industry compliance

The need for safety includes fire safety systems on floating production storage vessels, according to Patrick Wadden, vice president of sales and marketing at Hellan Fluid Systems, a division of the Cleveland-based Hellan Strainer Co., that offers products on production platforms and floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) units.

Helen Strainer products contribute to environmental safety on production platforms, making them extremely important, Wadden told Daily Energy Insider, noting that such products enhance safety by removing contaminants in processing systems that can lead to equipment failure and other hazards.

“The Hellan strainers, which are online cleanable, are a critical component of an offshore facility firewater system by providing seawater clear of debris to the foam systems and deluge spray nozzles,” said Wadden.

Hellan Strainer’s marine strainers protect equipment on offshore rigs and FPSO vessels by removing debris, including microplastics, from harsh seawater environments. Their strainers are also used in fire water deluge systems on the oil platforms. Fire deluge systems are used in high hazard areas like oil rigs and chemical plants because they release water or foam fire suppressant to all open sprinkler heads at the same time to douse a fire before it has a chance to grow out of control. 

So overall, Hellan Strainer’s marine strainer systems strengthen the safety of production platforms used by the oil and gas industry by improving the reliability of their firewater systems. Being able to put out a fire quickly preserves human health and safety and prevents environmental disaster, Wadden said. 

At the same time, the presence of contaminants in the processing system can increase the risk of equipment failure, leaks, and other safety hazards. By using the Hellan and SSI Strainer systems to remove these contaminants, FPSOs can maintain a safer operational environment for the workers and equipment onboard, he added.