Interior Department Strengthens Blowout Prevention Requirements After Grassley Inquiry
M E M O R A N D U M
TO: Reporters and Editors
FR: Jill Kozeny, 202-224-1308
for Senator Chuck Grassley
RE: New blowout prevention requirements
DA: Friday, June 18, 2010
The day after Senator Grassley released a letter he received from BP and his own response, which highlighted a practice by the Minerals Management Service that appeared to fall short of legal requirements, the Interior Department announced a directive to strengthen blowout prevention requirements.
In a June 16 follow up inquiry to BP, Grassley delineated his concerns, as follows:
“Specifically, I requested that BP “provide documentation that BP is in compliance with MMS regulation 250.416 (e) for all oil rigs owned/leased/operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.” I received the following response:
‘BP has submitted applications for permits to drill in accordance with the process prescribed by MMS officials, including submission of all applications, forms, and pertinent documentation required and/or requested by such officials. All applications submitted by BP in accordance with MMS regulations contained at 30 C.F.R. § 250 are reviewed and approved by MMS officials prior to the operation of all rigs leased and/or operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, as required by MMS regulations (21 C.F.R. § 250.410), BP obtains written approval from the MMS District Manager before it begins drilling any well or performing similar operations as provided for in the regulations. BP is not aware of any MMS practice requiring an applicant to attach to its initial application proof of the strength of the blind shear rams on the blowout preventer (which is the subject of 30 C.F.R. § 250.416 (e)). In past cases when MMS officials have raised any questions or additional requests relating to shear ram strength during the application review and approval process, BP has provided the additional information.’”
Grassley’s June 16 letter continued:
“I find it very disturbing that BP asserts that the “practice” in oil drilling is to avoid current laws designed to keep our beaches safe. And I am outraged that MMS is looking the other way. At this time, I ask again that you provide documentation that BP is in compliance with MMS regulation 250.416 (e) for all oil rigs owned/leased/operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, I demand any communications between BP and any employees at MMS that may confirm that MMS allowed BP to violate the law, receive a waiver from applicable law and/or not comply with MMS regulation 250.416(e).”
The second issue that Grassley raised this week about BP’s response to him was that BP estimated the Gulf oil spill was leaking at a greater rate than the oil company had previously stated.
Grassley obtained the information from BP in response to a request he made in May.
Click here to read Grassley’s initial May 18 inquiry.
Click here to read BP’s June 9 reply.
Click here to read Grassley’s June 16 follow-up inquiry.
A copy of the news release issued late today by the Interior Department is below.
Senator says BP violating law on blowout preventers
By Scott Zamost, CNN
June 17, 2010 2:48 p.m. EDT
- Grassley says BP not following MMS regulations
- Senator accuses MMS of "looking the other way"
- Demands communication between BP, MMS
(CNN) -- BP claims it was not government regulators' practice to follow regulations on blowout preventers, according to a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley obtained by CNN.
The letter, dated June 16, was written to BP Chairman Lamar McKay. Grassley had questioned whether BP has complied with regulations from the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service for oil rigs leased and operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company responded by stating: "BP has submitted applications for permits to drill in accordance with the process prescribed by MMS officials, including submission of all applications, forms and pertinent documentation required" or requested by such officials, Grassley said in the letter.
"BP is not aware of any MMS practice requiring an applicant to attach to its initial application proof of the strength of the blind shear rams on the blowout preventer," the letter states.
However, MMS regulations quoted in the letter state blowout preventer information submitted to the government must show "the blind shear rams installed ... are capable of shearing the drill pipe in the hole under maximum anticipated surface pressures."
Grassley said in the letter that he found it "very disturbing that BP asserts that the 'practice' in oil drilling is to avoid current laws to keep our beaches safe. And I am outraged that MMS is looking the other way."
He demanded any communication between BP and any employees of MMS "that may confirm that MMS allowed BP to violate the law, receive a waiver from applicable law and/or not comply with MMS regulations."
Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said that the "stronger regulatory structure, tougher safety requirements, and new leadership" the department "is putting in place will bring about fundamental changes to how our nation oversees offshore oil and gas operations."
"Without question, we must raise the bar for offshore oil and gas operations, hold them to the highest safety standards, and see to it that they are following the law, rather than cutting corners," she said. "We will also be implementing reforms and recommendations that we expect will come from the presidential commission and other ongoing investigations."
Date: June 18, 2010
Contact: Kendra Barkoff, 202-208-6416
Interior Issues Directive Strengthening Blowout Prevention Requirements for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations
Washington, DC - As part of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s continuing agenda to strengthen safety and oversight of offshore oil and gas operations, the Department of the Interior today issued a directive to oil and gas lessees and operators requiring them, when they file for a new drilling permit, exploration plan, or development plan, to submit information that addresses the possibility of a blowout and details steps they are taking to prevent blowouts.
The directive reverses a policy adopted in 2003 and included in a 2008 “Notice to Lessees” under the previous Administration that exempted many offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico from submitting certain information – to accompany exploration or development plans – about a blowout scenario and worst-case discharge.
“The BP oil spill has laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry’s ability to prevent and stop catastrophic blowouts,” said Secretary Salazar. “While the challenges of intervening in a catastrophic blowout are significantly greater in deepwater than in shallow water, all operators should provide basic information about potential blowouts, and steps that are being taken to reduce the possibility of a blow out."
Added Salazar, “this is basic information that applicants should be able to provide; it should not delay permitting of appropriate shallow water drilling."
The Notice to Lessees (“Blowout Scenario NTL”) requires oil and gas operators to submit information for Exploration Plans (EP), Development and Production Plans (DPP) and Development Operations Coordination Documents (DOCD) that includes:
- An estimated flow rate, total volume, and maximum duration of the potential blowout;
- A discussion of the potential for the well to bridge over, the likelihood for surface intervention to stop the blowout, the availability of a rig to drill a relief well, and rig package constraints;
- Estimates of the time it would take to contract for a rig, move it onsite, and drill a relief well; and
- A description of the assumption and calculations used to determine the volume of a worst case discharge scenario.
The Blowout Scenario NTL is the latest in a series of reforms to the oversight and management of offshore energy resources and activities, including:
- Implementation of immediate safety requirements for offshore oil and gas operations;
- Establishing a 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling;
- Appointing Michael R. Bromwich to lead reforms to oil and gas oversight and management;
- Postponing consideration of potential exploratory drilling in the Arctic.
Secretary Salazar said that the Department of the Interior, together with the Council on Environmental Quality, is also conducting a review of the Minerals Management Service’s procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act.
On June 2, the Department of the Interior announced that offshore lessees and operators in federal waters would be required to submit additional safety and environmental information for exploration and development plans. The Blowout Scenario NTL and NTL No. 2010-N05, Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the OCS formally require offshore lessees and operators to submit the additional information required. As a result of ongoing investigations and safety and environmental reviews, Interior may issue further notices to lessees requiring additional information for exploration or development plans.
To view the NTL issued today, click here.
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