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New offshore regulator Bromwich defends moratorium

Posted on 15 July 2010

The new lead regulator for offshore oil and gas development defended to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling the Secretary of Interior’s decision to issue a new drilling moratorium. The new moratorium bans until 30 November all drilling from floating facilities, whether using surface or subsurface BOPs, and all drilling using subsurface BOPs. Water depth is not a factor. (See separate articles on DrillingContractor.org about the moratorium and IADC’s response.)

Drilling from floating “devices” was halted over concerns about the integrity of the high-pressure risers, said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation (BOEM) director Michael Bromwich, addressing the commission on 13 July, a day after issuance of the new moratorium. “Failure of the high-pressure risers can lead to uncontrolled flow,” he said.

Calling the Administration’s data collected since the Macondo spill “extremely extensive,” Mr Bromwich said the new moratorium would allow the BOEM time to develop new rules for offshore drilling and to conduct further investigations. He said the new moratorium is “roughly congruent” with the original. While 30 November was set as the end date, he said that Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar was open to “adjusting that time frame.”

“The Secretary hopes that before November 30 that he will feel comfortable to allow deepwater drilling to go forward,” Mr Bromwich said.

Commission co-chairman William Reilly noted that industry has indicated a clear willingness to move forward more safely, and he questioned why BOEM could not simply place inspectors on all deepwater rigs, which total 33 or fewer. Mr Bromwich said the agency could do that, but added, “No inspector can be perfect.”

Mr Bromwich said the Secretary was particularly concerned about the industry’s capabilities for spill response and blowout containment. He cited a 28 June meeting between industry representatives and Department of Interior officials. When industry representatives were asked about their plans and capabilities for containment and response, Mr Bromwich said, “There was a pause, then silence.”

However, Mr Bromwich did not add that this was a meeting whose agenda was to discuss safe drilling. Oil-spill response and containment was outside the area of expertise of these industry professionals, according to attendees at the event.

“The good news today is that the current strategy seems to be working,” he said, even as BP worked to install a new cap on the spewing well.

He said that an “unprecedented” amount of resources was directed toward the spill response.

Mr Bromwich said that BOEM would hold hearings during the week of 19 June on well design.

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