- - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This month marks the sixth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and communities along the Gulf Coast have recovered from the effects of the spill and federally imposed moratorium. Even as studying and monitoring continue to identify where to focus additional restoration activities, the anniversary of the tragic accident that triggered the spill and claimed the lives of 11 brave men is a powerful reminder that safety isn’t just a priority, but the No. 1 priority, for the oil and gas industry.

Since 2010, the industry, in cooperation with government, has taken action to make accessing America’s offshore oil and natural gas resources safer than ever before. They have enhanced spill prevention, containment and response; revised existing standards and regulations and created new ones; and worked hard to foster a strong industry safety culture.

For example, the industry has established the Center for Offshore Safety, which works with the regulatory community to make sure that the latest advances in safety technologies and practices are shared throughout the industry and across the country. New containment and gathering systems also stand ready to deploy at a moment’s notice in the event of a future spill, and coordination among public and private entities has been vastly improved.

All of this hard work has helped the industry perform a near miracle. U.S. oil production has increased by 70 percent, and the country has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer. The price of crude oil has fallen by 50 percent and gasoline is a dollar a gallon cheaper. Consumers are better off and thousands of jobs have been created. Offshore production has made an important contribution to that miracle.

Unfortunately, new federal regulations could undermine some of the progress that has been made. The Obama administration’s recently released well control rule imposes additional costly requirements on offshore drilling operations. While it appears the final rule addressed some industry concerns, including increased time to implement equipment redesign, retrofit and manufacture, this rule could still have unintended consequences, possibly even leading to less safety and environmental protection. The enforcement and implementation provisions of the rule will be key as regulators move forward. Continual dialogue between the regulator and the regulated about the details of the rule will be necessary to achieve a cost-effective and safety-effective process.

It would be unfortunate if costly new regulations reversed the progress we have made. It would be a tragedy if they ended up weakening safety instead of enhancing it. That is why I am confident that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Obama administration will work with the oil and gas industry to develop and implement regulations that are sensible and effective. After all, the industry and the government share a common goal of enhancing offshore safety while producing more oil and natural gas here at home.

Nothing is more important to the men and women of America’s oil and gas industry than safety; our livelihoods, the communities where we live and work, and the lives of our colleagues depend on it. Offshore oil and gas producers were justifiably proud when the co-chairs of the national spill commission formed after Deepwater Horizon concluded in April 2014 that “offshore drilling is safer than it was four years ago.” But they weren’t satisfied. Deepwater Horizon was an important lesson that safety can always be improved — one the industry will continue to heed.

Randall Luthi is the president of the National Ocean Industries Association.


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