US Offshore Drilling Chief Calls Anew for More Workers

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Oct. 18, 2010

The top U.S. offshore drilling regulator Monday called anew for bulking up the agency by adding more in-house expertise, putting at as many as 200 the number of additional engineers and other workers the agency hoped to add.

"My hope is that we can add as many as 200 new inspectors, engineers, environmental scientists, and other key staff to support our agency in carrying out its important oversight functions," Michael Bromwich, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said at an international regulators conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, according to the text of prepared remarks.

The director, hired following the blowout of the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, has been loud about the need to add workers who can go toe-to-toe with the industry. Under the old system, 53 inspectors oversaw thousands of rigs. The drilling engineers who approved permits used computer programs to evaluate blowout risks that they felt were less sophisticated that industry programs.

In pressing Congress to provide funding for more workers, Bromwich is also pushing to hire more in-house experts such as petroleum engineers with access to more sophisticated kinds of data. Bromwich has imagined a new regulatory approach that would mean less reliance on inspectors who visit drilling rigs with checklists to determine whether each rig meets certain requirements. Instead, regulators would have access to real-time data--including possibly to data such as what was available to workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig before it exploded April 20.

The offshore drilling regulator has asked Congress for $100 million, but Congress has approved only about $25 million.

Separately, Bromwich said in the text of prepared remarks that the U.S., as it remakes its own system, was looking to regulatory approaches used by other nations.

"In making decisions about the future regulatory framework in the United States, we have been studying the approaches of our sister organizations in other nations," Bromwich said.

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