US mandates new safety rules for offshore drilling
US authorities Tuesday ordered offshore drilling rigs to implement new safety measures in the wake of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The new directive from the Interior Department allows shallow-water drilling — in depths of up to 500 feet (150 meters) — to continue if rigs are in compliance with the safety rules.
The new rules call for certification from a professional engineer before beginning any new drilling operations.
They also call for new procedures for well casing and cement and at least two independent tested barriers for the well, and third-party verification of the blowout preventer — the device that failed in the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon operation.
“Oil and gas from the Outer Continental Shelf remains an important component of our energy security as we transition to the clean energy economy, but we must ensure that offshore drilling is conducted safely and in compliance with the law,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
He noted that the six-month deepwater drilling moratorium — affecting new wells at depths over 500 feet — will remain in place but that “shallow water drilling may continue under the stronger safety requirements that we are implementing today.”
The new rules also call for a secondary control system for subsea blowout preventers with remote operated vehicle (ROV) intervention capabilities.
The subsea blowout preventer “must have an emergency shut-in system in the event of lost power,” the rules say, along with additional safety protections.
Officials said any drilling operation failing to comply with the new rules can be shut down. Additional rules may be issued in the coming days, said Bob Abbey, who is the director of the Bureau of Land Management and who has also been called upon to serve as head of the troubled Minerals Management Service.
“We are following an orderly, responsible process for implementing stronger safety and environmental requirements of offshore drilling,” said Abbey. “We need to make sure that drilling is done right, that it is done safely, and that oil and gas operators are following the law.”