DOI proposes new rules for offshore drilling on U.S. Arctic shelf

The Department of the Interior (DOI), acting through the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), on Friday issued proposed regulations for future exploratory drilling activities on the U.S. Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The proposed Arctic-specific regulations focus solely on offshore exploration drilling operations within the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea Planning Areas.The Department of Interior says that the proposed regulations codify and further develop current Arctic-specific operational standards that seek to ensure that operators take the necessary steps to plan through all phases of offshore exploration in the Arctic, including mobilization, drilling, maritime transport and emergency response, and conduct safe drilling operations.

“The Arctic has substantial oil and gas potential, and the U.S. has a longstanding interest in the orderly development of these resources, which includes establishing high standards for the protection of this critical ecosystem, the surrounding communities, and the subsistence needs and cultural traditions of Alaska Natives,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “These proposed regulations issued today extend the Administration’s thoughtful approach to balanced oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, and are designed to ensure that offshore exploratory activities will continue to be subject to the highest safety standards.”

The proposed regulations codify requirements that all Arctic offshore operators and their contractors are appropriately prepared for Arctic conditions and that operators have developed an integrated operations plan that details all phases of the exploration program for purposes of advance planning and risk assessment.

A goal of the proposed rule is to identify possible vulnerabilities early in the planning process so that corrections could be made in order to decrease the possibility of an incident occurring. The requirements in the proposed rule are also designed to ensure that those plans would be executed in a safe and environmentally protective manner despite the challenges presented by the Arctic.

 

Separate relief rig

The proposed rule also would require operators to submit region-specific oil spill response plans, have prompt access to source control and containment equipment, and have available a separate relief rig to timely drill a relief well in the event of a loss of well control. The proposed rule continues to allow for technological innovation, as long as the operator can demonstrate that the level of its safety and environmental performance satisfies the standards set forth in the proposed rule, DOI has said in the statement,

“This proposed rule is designed to ensure safe energy exploration in unforgiving Arctic conditions,” said Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno. “It builds upon our existing Arctic-specific standards and experience with previous operations offshore Alaska, encourages further development of technology, and includes rigorous safeguards to protect the fragile environment.”

This proposed rule would address a number of important issues and objectives, including ensuring that each operator:
1. Designs and conducts exploration programs in a manner suitable for Arctic OCS conditions;
2. Develops an integrated operations plan (IOP) that would address all phases of its proposed Arctic OCS exploration program and submit the IOP to DOI, acting through its designee, BOEM, at least 90 days in advance of filing the Exploration Plan (EP);

3. Has access to, and the ability to promptly deploy, Source Control and Containment Equipment (SCCE) while drilling below, or working below, the surface casing;

4. Has access to a separate relief rig located so that it could timely drill a relief well in the event of a loss of well control under the conditions expected at the site;

5. Has the capability to predict, track, report, and respond to ice conditions and adverse weather events;

6. Effectively manages and oversees contractors; and

7. Develops and implements an Oil Spill Response Plan (OSRP) that is designed and executed in a manner suitable for the unique Arctic OCS operating environment and has the necessary equipment, training, and personnel for oil spill response on the Arctic OCS.

 

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