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January 2014 Issue

Managing Risk and Safety Offshore in 2014

By Brian Salerno
Director, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) recently marked its second anniversary, and true to our mission, we continue to take steps to enhance safety in all offshore operations. Safety systems, however, are ever-evolving, and effective risk management remains a persistent challenge.

I have spent my entire career, first with the U.S. Coast Guard and now as the director of BSEE, focused on this challenge. How do we identify, measure and reduce the risks to life, property and the environment that are inherent in all offshore activities?

We were reminded of these risks over the past year through three major well control incidents and a separate incident involving an explosion resulting in multiple losses of life. These incidents occurred during different operations at various types of facilities, and they all occurred in shallow water. They clearly demonstrate that risk is always present. None of these incidents occurred in areas of assumed higher risk, such as the application of new and emerging technologies or in deepwater drilling.

BSEE's overarching purpose is the protection of offshore workers and the environment. This must also be the top priority for the regulated community, which operates under the conditions established in federal offshore leases. The offshore industry as a whole must cultivate a robust safety culture, and everyone working offshore must act to reduce risks. To enable this, we will enhance our data collection and analysis capabilities, share lessons learned, evaluate new and emerging technologies, and better define measures for safety performance.

Expanded incident reporting requirements, near-miss reporting and real-time monitoring are examples of expanded data collection and improved analysis capabilities we are building within BSEE. However, to be truly comprehensive, we will need the industry to participate, by sharing lessons learned and best practices, and by reporting near misses.

One tool we will soon make available to the industry is the near-miss reporting system. Through collaboration with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, we will enable offshore workers to report near misses in a way that protects their identity. The aggregated data and analysis we receive will help us identify leading and lagging indicators, which will be useful to the industry as well as to government, in refining offshore safety systems.

As the industry moves into frontier areas, such as the Arctic, there will be an ongoing need to identify new and emerging technologies that can reduce risk. The newly created Ocean Energy Safety Institute will be an innovator in this research. For example, the Institute, which will bring together the best minds in academia, industry and government, may evaluate the new technologies that are needed to drill in high-temperature and high-pressure reservoirs.

Information sharing and new technologies are critical to reducing risk, but the human factor is still one of the largest variables in offshore operations.

The updated Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) rule is one of the important steps toward the protection of workers and of the environment from preventable accidents. The SEMS II rule builds on the original SEMS rule that was published following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. The updated rule calls for greater employee participation by empowering field-level personnel with safety management decisions.

One of the key elements in reducing risk as the regulator is better defining how we measure performance. The true measures of success are centered on outcomes, not on the activities designed to identify and correct discreet safety problems, such as issuing incidents of noncompliance (INCs). While INCs and accidents are factors we consider in assessing safety performance, they alone do not provide sufficient data to evaluate how well an operator is managing system or process risks. BSEE is taking a hard look at how best to measure safety performance and risk in this way.

I am committed to an approach to reducing risks that will be guided by four key principles—clarity, consistency, predictability and accountability'and anchored by transparency.

This is what industry needs to operate effectively, and it is what the public expects from regulators, who are charged with looking after the public interest.

The regulatory reforms implemented during our first two years as BSEE have enhanced safety, but the risks inherent in all offshore activities persist. We are working hard to cultivate a robust safety culture across the industry to reduce those risks.

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