The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Safe Offshore Energy Development is in U.S. Best Interest

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 28, 2016

The stakes in safely developing America’s offshore energy are high. Consider:

  • Production today is more than 1.5 million barrels per day. U.S. offshore development has accounted for more than 1 million barrels of oil per day for the past 20 years.
  • U.S. offshore production is greater than the respective outputs of Libya, the United Kingdom, Algeria and Qatar. It’s creeping closer to Norway (1.96 million barrels per day).
  • Production in the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for most of U.S. offshore output, is near all-time highs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
  • It’s estimated that 89.9 billion barrels of oil and more than 470 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have yet to be discovered on the U.S. outer continental shelf – and past estimates have proved to be well below what ultimately was discovered by industry.

That last point is critically important, as the government expects U.S. consumption of oil and other liquid fuels will total 19.3 million barrels per day in 2040.

We say all of that to say this: Our offshore oil and natural gas reserves have never been more important to our economy and our security – which is why industry is focused on continuous improvement in the safety of offshore development. Erik Milito, API group director for upstream and industry operations:

“America’s offshore oil and natural gas industry is characterized by the continued advancement of technology and systems integrity, the application of extensive industry technical standards and a ro­bust regulatory regime. The industry continues to develop and improve upon technologies designed to ensure that an environmental incident never oc­curs …”

Safe offshore energy development is a by-product of advanced technologies and equipment, an ever-expanding knowledge base, improved worker training, an effective partnership of industry and regulatory authorities, constantly improving standards for deepwater exploration and production and, over it all, an industry committed to creating and growing a culture of safety in offshore operations.

Let’s start with industry standards. API has more than 200 exploration and production standards, 100 of them published since 2010. Key new standards cover deepwater well design and construction, subsea capping stacks, high-temperature/high-pressure design guidelines, structural integrity of fixed offshore structures and more.  Improvements have been made to existing standards on blowout prevention equipment systems, isolating potential flow zones during well construction, subsurface safety valve equipment and more. New standards are being developed.

Offshore development is tightly regulated, including more than two dozen statutory authorities and more than 80 Code of Federal Regulation parts derived from those statutes. Offshore operations are subject to more than two dozen significant approvals and permits.

A couple of other major offshore safety initiatives:

Subsea Well Intervention Capability

Two entities – the Marine Well Containment Company and HWCG – provide containment technology and response capabilities if there’s a need to cap a well that’s releasing oil thousands of feet below the water’s surface. MWCC is an independent company while HWCG is a consortium of 16 deepwater operators. Both maintain quickly deployable systems designed to stop uncontrolled flows of hydrocarbons from a subsea well. A HWCG video:

Center For Offshore Safety

We’ve posted on the center’s mission before (see here, here and here). Industry created to focus exclusively on enhancing the safety of offshore oil and natural gas development. Its main effort is helping member companies develop safety management systems (SEMS) that are based on industry’s technical standards.

SEMS involve establishing safe work practices and procedures to enhance safety and environmental performance, identifying threats to safety and setting up barriers to those threats and third-party audits of the SEMS program by an accredited audit provider. COS collects data and performance information that can be shared by its members. COS Executive Director Charlie Williams:

“One of the most fundamental things that we could do to ensure that we have long-term, effective safety is embedding the management of safety into business processes. So that, when you’re doing the planning, when you’re managing change, when you’re developing skills and knowledge, when you’re developing your hazard analysis, that when you do all of that, what’s embedded in that is to make all those decisions, all those plans in favor of safety.”

More Williams:

The SEMS approach is “so much better than rule-based things, where you have a checklist and say we’re going to go inspect these 10 things – we’re going to inspect the relief valves and see if they’re OK. And that’s good, you have to have some of that. But it completely misses the point of performance, because it doesn’t really focus on what you have to do every day. … It changes the mindset where people say I checked the check sheet, so I must be OK. … You’re only OK if you know the hazards, know the barriers and you keep those barriers in place, which is a continuous thing, not a check sheet or a periodic thing. The performance (evaluation) is: Are the barriers there, and are you maintaining them?”

As mentioned above, safe development of America’s offshore energy is critically important to our country’s economic strength and security in the world today. Industry is committed to continuous safety improvement. It has the know-how and advanced technologies to conduct safe drilling operations that will result in the energy production our country needs. Milito:

“We know that vast resources are yet to be devel­oped in America’s offshore and, fortunately, we have demonstrably proven over the past several years that we are well positioned to safely manage the risks as­sociated with offshore oil and gas development. By moving forward with safe and environmentally re­sponsible offshore oil and natural gas development, we can ensure that the United States continues to play a critical leadership role and help to seal our global energy status.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.