Thoughtstream: Keeping up with the industry

Brian Salerno

June 17, 2014

The pace of innovation in the offshore industry is awe-inspiring. It’s amazing to look at today’s capabilities and think about how they weren’t even possible a few years ago. Of course, from the perspective of the regulator, it is also a little daunting. Our challenge at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is to keep current with the aggressive pace the industry is setting, so that we can understand the safety and environmental implications of the technology being used.

Our goal is to ensure that our nation’s offshore resources are developed without incident, and I believe that it also a goal of industry. Offshore safety, protection of the environment, developing offshore resources, all of these not only reflect public needs and expectations, but they also represent good business practices. We have all seen how catastrophic events can adversely impact the environment, causing the public to lose confidence not only in the industry’s commitment to safety, but also in the regulator’s ability to oversee responsible offshore operations. How then do we collectively and appropriately approach the ongoing imperative of integrating new technology into an already complex operating and regulatory environment?

There are several approaches we are undertaking that we believe will allow all of us to meet our mutual goal of safe operations. One change that has already started is the placement of more performance-based language into our new regulations, which will make it easier to establish equivalency to the standard of safety we all envision.

We are pursuing more sophisticated risk-assessment tools to accommodate technological approaches not specifically envisioned in the regulations as they are written today. Although we intend to maintain our hybrid approach to regulations, risk tools will complement established standards in our evaluation of new and emerging technology.

We have also established the Ocean Energy Safety Institute to serve as a forum where industry, government, and academia can come together and explore the implications of emerging technology. The institute will hold forums on topics such as how to best assess and make a determination of best available and safest technology and system reliability. However, the Institute will only be successful with industry participation. It will be open, transparent, and collaborative, but the industry’s participation is needed to make that happen.

While all of the approaches described above will help us move closer to our goal of no serious incidents on the US outer continental shelf (OCS), our sense in BSEE is that we still need to do more, to work more closely with original equipment manufacturers, participate more fully with standards-setting bodies, and strengthen our ability to assess novel and emerging technologies. That is why we are working to establish a technology center within BSEE. The center will not replace the regulatory processes already in place at the regional level. Permit reviews and deepwater operations plans will remain a function of our region and district offices. But the center will add depth and capacity to the bureau, so that as industry continues to innovate and develop new capabilities, we will keep pace. It will support all of our regional offices and will work closely with the Ocean Energy Safety Institute.

This is an exciting time to be working on the OCS, with an unprecedented level of technological innovation. As we continue to move forward, we must all keep in mind what is at stake and remain committed to safe and responsible operations.

Brian Salerno is the director of BSEE. Prior to joining the agency, Salerno served as the US Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations. Over his 36-year active duty career, Salerno attained the rank of Vice Admiral, serving predominately within the US Coast Guard’s marine safety program. Salerno is a 2000 graduate of the US Army War College, with an MA in Strategic Studies. He is also a graduate of the Naval War College non- resident program, and holds an MS in Management from The Johns Hopkins University.