US Offshore Regulator to Focus More on Technology

By Trent Jacobs 27 May 2014

The United States’ top offshore regulator told attendees at the recent Offshore Technology Conference in Houston that his agency is adopting new policies and measures to improve its working relationship with the offshore industry. To accomplish this, the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Brain Salerno, said that his agency will increase its focus on technology assessment. Salerno explained that traditionally, BSEE has based regulatory standards in part on industry standards, but the ongoing advancements of offshore technology have presented a challenge to this model. “We still rely on that basic approach, but regulations have always had a tough time keeping up with technological change,” Salerno said. “For that matter, industry standards are having a tough time keeping up as well. And that has become even more of a problem as the pace of technological innovation and change has accelerated.”

The director said the agency will open a Technology Center in Houston to work closer with equipment manufactures and to study emerging technologies. The Technology Center will not replace any of the regulatory processes, Salerno said, “but it will add depth and capacity to the bureau, so that as industry continues to innovate and develop new capabilities, we will be keeping pace with you.” BSEE is in the process of choosing a location and assessing staffing requirements and gave no timeline for the opening of the Technology Center.

The director also announced BSEE’s establishment of the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) to serve as a forum for regulators, the industry, and academia to study the role of emerging technology. The inaugural event for the OESI was held at the University of Houston the week following OTC and focused on the topic of risk management. BSEE is also introducing new language to help clarify the standard of safety it is seeking from offshore companies and will make accommodations for new technological approaches not covered by existing rules.

Trent Jacobs is a Technology Writer for the Journal of Petroleum Technology.