US releases final well control rules

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nearly six years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has revealed final well control regulations designed to reduce future risks of a devastating offshore oil or gas blowout.

Jewell. Image from US Interior Flickr.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and BSEE Director Brian Salerno laid out the rules in a press conference today (14 April). The rules are geared towards reducing the possibility of such an incident that could lead to the loss of life, serious injuries, or substantial harm to the environment.

There have been concerns that parts of the new rules could increased costs to levels which would make many projects unprofitable. OE looked at the concerns in our March issue. Late Thursday, the API said it was reviewing the fnial well control, having earlier cautioned that elements of the initial proposal had technical problems which could in fact reduce safety. However, it welcomed the government's "alignment with the industry's leadership on safety."

“We are raising the bar to new standards for well design, production systems, and blowout prevention and well control equipment,” Secretary Jewell said on a press conference call.

The regulations address all dimensions of well control, including more stringent design requirements and operational procedures for critical well control equipment used in oil and gas operations on the US Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). They also build upon a number of reforms instituted over the last six years to strengthen and modernize offshore energy standards and oversight.

According to the DOI and BSEE, the rules specifically address the full range of systems and equipment related to well control operations, with a focus on blowout preventer requirements, well design, well control casing, cementing, real-time monitoring and subsea containment. The measures are designed to improve equipment reliability, especially for blowout preventers and blowout prevention technologies. The rule requires operability of equipment through rigorous testing and provides for the continuous oversight of operations, all with the goal of improving the reliability of equipment and systems to protect workers’ lives and the environment from the potentially devastating effects of blowouts and offshore oil spills.

“The well control rule is a vital part of our extensive reform agenda to strengthen, update and modernize our offshore energy program using lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon,” said Secretary Jewell. “I applaud BSEE for their work to develop a rule that takes into consideration an intensive analysis of the causes of the tragedy, advances in industry standards, best practices, as well as an unprecedented level of stakeholder outreach.”

Key features of the rule include requirements for blowout preventer systems, double shear rams, third party reviews of equipment, real-time monitoring data, safe drilling margins, centralizers, inspection intervals, and other reforms related to well design and control, casing, cementing and subsea containment.

The rules laid out today, according to DOI and BSEE, coincide with the industry’s best practices, standards and equipment specifications. 

“For example, new drilling rigs already are being built pursuant to updated industry standards that BSEE used as a foundation for the rule. Furthermore, most rigs comply with recognized engineering practices and original equipment manufacturers requirements related to repair and training. For companies that may need time to bring their operations into compliance, most of the requirements do not become effective until three months after publication of the final rule. Moreover, several requirements have more extended timeframes for compliance,” the two said in a press release.

The proposed rule was based upon significant input received from various investigations and reports of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, in which a cascade of multiple failures resulted in the loss of well control, an explosion and fire which claimed the lives of 11 individuals, and subsequent months-long spill, the two agencies said.

BSEE analyzed the results of the investigations, including nearly 370 specific recommendations, and conducted extensive outreach to derive further enhancements from stakeholder input, academia, and industry best practices, standards and specifications.

“We have made it a priority to engage with industry to strengthen our understanding of emerging technology, to participate with standards development organizations and to seek out the perspectives of other stakeholders,” said Salerno. “We collected best practices on preventing well control incidents and blowouts to inform the development of this rule.  As a result, this is one of the most comprehensive offshore safety and environmental protection rules ever developed by the Department of the Interior.”

The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) President Randall Luthi said that he was gratified that some industry concerns were addressed today.

“When regulations require retrofitting existing equipment or the use of new technology, it is best to have a reasonable implementation time. This was important to industry, and on that aspect BSEE agreed and extended many of the proposed timelines,” Luthi said.

He went on to say that the final language on the prescriptive drilling margin may not completely address valid concerns expressed by some of our members.

“Therefore, the implementation scheme of that section will be key as regulators move forward under the rule. There may very well be more earwigs tucked away in the corn, but we are just now beginning to peel back the layers of this massive rule,” he said. “We cannot ignore, however, that the release of the final rule culminates a rulemaking process that was flawed.”

“Industry has put sweeping new safety standards in place over the last six years, and we welcome effective regulations that support and enhance our efforts to safely and cleanly deliver the energy America needs,” Luthi concluded. 

Read more of OE's prior Well Control Rule coverage:

Tug of War (OE March 2016)

BSEE's well control rule under fire

Categories: Equipment Subsea Production North America Gulf of Mexico Design Regulations

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