Proposed Arctic Drilling Regs Take Holistic Look At Safety

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The heads of the two federal agencies in charge of off-shore oil and gas drilling visited Alaska last week to discuss proposed safety regulations for drilling in the Arctic. They spoke with stakeholders in Anchorage and around the North Slope, including hosting a town hall meeting in Barrow.

Brian Salerno, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, says the rules set transparent, universal safety standards for drilling in the Arctic’s outer continental shelf, and they emphasize prevention. Currently, safety plans are company- and project-specific.

“What this rule does is set a standard of care whereby you bring what you need with you into the region. So specific items, like a same-season relief rig, is included in there. That’s not required elsewhere because rigs are readily available in the Gulf [of Mexico], for example.” The rules also require containment domes and other equipment.

Salerno says the proposal allows for some flexibility and for the use of new, improved technologies. If more companies start working in the region they can pool their equipment. He says it’s unclear how much implementing the regulations will cost industry groups because there’s so little data about working in the region.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director Abigail Hopper says the rules include safety requirements for mobilization, demobilization, and transit of equipment as well. They also require an integrated operations plan that involves state and federal agencies.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest, including industry, to have a clear path forward and clear rules and have the public have confidence that the regulators understand the unique characteristics.”

Salerno and Hopper say the feedback they’ve received so far has been positive, though many stakeholders haven’t had time to review the proposal in full. They’re collecting comments until April 27. The new rules, if adopted, would apply to both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.