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NOIA 2011 Annual Meeting Review

Building on the near-record attendance at the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) 2010 Fall Meeting, NOIA's Annual Meeting, which ran April 13 to 15 in Washington, D.C., was the largest gathering of NOIA members since 2005. The meeting centered on discussions of lessons learned, technological advances and the regulatory and legislative impact of the Macondo well accident a year earlier. The meeting also included the presentation of the 'Safety in Seas Award,' which is sponsored by Compass Publications Inc., the publisher of Sea Technology.

Nicolette Nye, the director of public affairs for NOIA, wrote this account of the annual meeting.

General Speakers
The NOIA Annual Meeting featured elected officials, government experts, media representatives and others who provided insights into the impact of the oil spill.

Robert Gibbs. The former White House press secretary spoke about the challenges of running White House press briefings during the gulf oil spill. 'Some of these were the toughest briefings I ever gave at the White House,' Gibbs said. 'I am not the first to say that we were not prepared as a government to face this crisis.'

Gibbs observed that because the event was played out in a 24-hour news cycle, there was a rush to get the latest angle of the spill story out, and there was a lot of misinformation disseminated as a result. Communications challenges included the spill camera, which Gibbs said 'should have been seen as a way to show the public what was happening and how difficult it was to plug the well, but instead became a view into how industry and the government was failing.'

Gibbs said that President Obama's decision to try to open up offshore areas earlier that year was one that should get some credit. 'Even though the OCS Plan was revised in December, you have a president who has made the tough political decision to open these areas once, and that is important,' he said.

While he said he doesn't think a lot of legislation will make it to the president's desk in the next two years, Gibbs said he thinks a comprehensive energy bill stands a good chance of passing in this current economic environment. Gibbs concluded by stating that while oil and gas exploration carries some form of risk, that doesn't change the growing demand for energy both at home and abroad.

'I believe that government and industry can put into place a structure that ensures safety, effective response and containment should an accident occur,' he said. 'There is a path forward.'

Kimberly Strassel. One of the most popular speakers of the meeting was Kimberly Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and author of the weekly column Potomac Watch. Her speech drew upon her experience growing up in the Pacific Northwest and watching the timber industry be strangled by government regulation. Parallels were drawn between that experience and the outcomes of the EPA's regulatory actions, as well as the impact of the moratorium on the Gulf Coast region. She also spoke about the challenges of the industry in the wake of the Macondo incident and encouraged industry to remain engaged in having its voice heard regarding regulatory and legislative actions.

William Reilly. A co-chair of the President's Oil Spill Commission and the former administrator of the EPA, William Reilly discussed the conclusions and recommendations of their recently completed report.

Although Reilly had some pointed criticisms of the companies involved in the Macondo accident and of the industry in general, he also held that the government's oversight was lacking in several key ways. That said, Reilly acknowledged that offshore energy is vital to the nation and that ways to move ahead safely must be found. Reilly also suggested that the United States could further increase protection of the oceans by assimilating the lessons learned from Macondo and 'exporting' them via development treaties with countries such as Cuba, Mexico, Canada and other nations exploring drilling in the Arctic.

Reilly encouraged industry to use this as a learning opportunity, citing companies like Exxon, which recovered from the Exxon Valdez spill to now represent a gold standard in safety.

Rep. Steve Scalise. Citing the impact of record-high gasoline prices on consumers and businesses in his home state of Louisiana, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Congress must act quickly to enact a national energy policy that will increase the supply of oil, explore alternative energy solutions and lower gas prices.

An adamant supporter of lifting the existing moratoria on oil and gas leasing in the OCS, Scalise said he will continue to work to reverse the policies that prevent utilizing the nation's natural resources and reduce dependence on foreign oil. While Scalise supports the pursuit of alternative sources of energy, he also stressed the need for a strong national energy policy that explores existing U.S. oil and gas reserves.

Gov. Bob McDonnell. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said he is leading his state to move quickly to become the 'energy capital of the East Coast'. McDonnell told the crowd that he has been working vigorously to push legislation through the state to open up Virginia's waters in order to become the first to access the Atlantic OCS's energy resources.

The governor touted his 'all of the above' energy policy while noting that legislation recently passed in the state calls for 80 percent of Virginia's royalty revenues from offshore exploration to go toward investing in renewable resources, including proposed wind farms offshore Virginia.

McDonnell was supportive of restarting lease sale 220, the potential lease area offshore Virginia that was canceled in May 2010. Seismic studies estimate a minimum of 130 billion barrels of oil and 1.9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which the governor said have the potential to bring $8 billion in capital investments and thousands of jobs to Virginia. He also noted the need for better information, pointing out that seismic studies are at least 20 years old.

McDonnell said Virginia has solid bipartisan support for oil, natural gas and wind development off its coast and that he is hopeful the legislation just passed out of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee will pave the way to get the sale of area 220 moving forward again.

General Sessions
Post-Macondo: A New Legal Frontier? As government regulators and industry attempt to define and understand the 'new normal' in the post-Macondo world, it is evident that one of the biggest changes will be the legal arena. There is heightened awareness that many laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will be used to shape the future of oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico.

The members of the panel at the annual meeting presented their views on the future. The panel consisted of attorneys with decades of experience in energy-related litigation, and energy and natural resources policy.

Lessons Learned: Advancing Deepwater Capabilities. Richard Morrison, vice president of global deepwater response for BP America (Houston, Texas), spoke about the company's commitment to share lessons learned globally so an accident on the magnitude of Macondo never happens again.

In addition to direct experiences with the Deepwater Horizon incident and response, Morrison said that BP has incorporated into its learnings the findings of the Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Board, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the National Academy of Engineering, the Montara Commission, the European Commission on Offshore Safety, the American Petroleum Institute Task Forces and the Presidential Oil Spill Commission, as well as its own internal investigation.

Morrison said that BP acquired unique knowledge and experience across the following five key areas: prevention, drilling safety, spill response and crisis management, containment and relief wells. He said BP is continuing to develop capabilities across these five areas with a focus on technology innovation, further enhanced standards in drilling safety, ensuring inventory of response equipment and consumables in global BP deepwater basins, and sharing lessons learned globally.

2011 Safety in Seas Award Presentation
Rick Martin, vice president of Compass Publications Inc., awarded helicopter services company Bristow Group Inc. (Houston, Texas) the 2011 NOIA Safety in Seas Award, recognizing the company's outstanding contribution to the safety of life offshore for energy workers through its 'Target Zero' program of training and safety tracking.

Bill Chiles, Bristow's president and CEO, was joined by Bristow employees Christopher Bond and Jon Stripling in accepting the award. Bristow's award-winning nomination was selected by a panel of judges from the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Academy of Science's Marine Board and a former senior regulatory official with the Minerals Management Service.

Target Zero is a comprehensive cultural and training system that seeks to achieve zero accidents, zero harm to people and zero harm to the environment. It was built on statistical data that indicated human error contributed to four out of five accidents or incidents.

For example, in the Gulf of Mexico, the Target Zero program has reduced the rate of air accidents from two reportable air accidents and one air incident in 2007 to zero accidents or incidents in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Bristow has achieved a 47 percent improvement year on year in lost work-time cases, with overall improvement of 88 percent from 2007 to 2009. When it comes to the environment, Target Zero has maintained a record of zero environmental incidents and has stepped up proactive efforts to ensure this stays constant.

Additional Information
The NOIA membership will next meet October 13 to 15 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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