The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) will need to draw on expertise outside the government to help it improve efforts to identify and develop the "best available and safest technologies" for offshore oil and gas production, as mandated by Congress, says a new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council.
The agency's plans for forming an independent institute to enhance safe and responsible offshore operations across the oil and gas industry could be a "suitable vehicle" for evaluating and developing new technologies to meet the mandate, the report says, but the institute’s scope should be significantly expanded.
After the Macondo well blowout and Deepwater Horizon oil spill, DOI sought to improve its approach for implementing the decades-old congressional mandate. It directs the U.S. secretary of the interior to require the use of technologies deemed best available and safest -- as well as economically feasible -- for offshore oil and gas drilling and production.
DOI's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which is responsible for safety and environmental oversight of oil and gas operations, asked the committee that wrote the report to identify and evaluate a range of implementation approaches, including a planned independent institute, known as the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI).
Offshore oil and gas exploration, drilling, and production pose many complex technical challenges, especially in very deep water or in harsh environments such as the Arctic. The pace of technology development to meet these challenges is rapid and constant because industry spends billions of dollars every year on drilling, development, and production activities.
However, despite BSEE's aggressive hiring and training campaign over the past two years, the agency cannot be expected to match industry's technical expertise because federal compensation limits make it difficult to attract and retain top experts, the report says.
BSEE should enlist a multidisciplinary group of individuals with the necessary skills to perform critical technical assessments, economic analysis, and independent reviews when needed, the report says. The planned institute would greatly aid in tapping the additional talent BSEE needs, as long as OESI is properly organized, staffed, and supported. However, the proposed funding level of up to $5 million over five years to launch OESI is likely to be insufficient for purposes other than planning and could limit BSEE’s ability to attract and retain key personnel.
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