US offshore safety - job # 1

US oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico occur in one of the world's largest exploration and production basins and involve nearly 4,000 production facilities, over 15,000 wells, 175 drilling rigs, and as many as 25,000 workers offshore at any given time.

US oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico occur in one of the world's largest exploration and production basins and involve nearly 4,000 production facilities, over 15,000 wells, 175 drilling rigs, and as many as 25,000 workers offshore at any given time. The region produces over one-half billion bbl of oil annually and nearly 6 tcf of natural gas, which constitute about one-fourth of domestically produced petroleum supply.

These statistics are no more impressive than the outstanding safety record the US offshore industry has achieved, while operating in a challenging environment with a diverse operator base. The industry has achieved this record by meeting some of the world's most rigorous and comprehensive safety standards. By virtue of their effectiveness, they have become de facto standards for offshore oil and gas operations around the world.

The record demonstrates that the US offshore oil and gas industry is operating safely. According to government statistics, our offshore industry, despite the challenging environment and complex equipment involved, is safer than many other industries and among the safest among all US oil and gas industry sectors.

According to 1998 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures and Minerals Management Service (MMS) survey data, the recordable injury and illness rate was 6.7% for the entire US private sector (6.7 injuries or illnesses/year/100 full-time workers), 4.4% for the petroleum industry as a whole, 4.1% for all exploration and production, and only 3.4% for US offshore operations.

Further, in 1999 the offshore rate decreased to 2.3%. Additionally, MMS survey data show that recordable injury and illness rates for all offshore categories - production, drilling, construction - also have been in decline. Together, these BLS and MMS statistics demonstrate that the processes and procedures employed by the operators and contractors who work in the US Gulf are effective in protecting employees and the environment.

Offshore safety and anti-pollution standards and recommended practices have played a key role in enhancing safety performance, environmental protection, and asset protection. These API and industry standards cover the design, installation, and/or implementation of various safety systems and procedures for offshore production and drilling facilities. Both the MMS and the US Coast Guard have incorporated many of these standards in their regulations, as have various non-U.S. government agencies.

In 1993, API issued RP75, "Recommended Practice for Develop-ment of a Safety and Environmental Management Program (SEMP) for Outer Continental Shelf Operations and Facilities." This recommended practice is a fit-for-purpose tool for integrating safety management into a variety of offshore operations. As the first comprehensive safety and environmental management standard of its kind in the world, RP75 reflects the contributions of many industry offshore safety and operational experts with hundreds of years of experience in the oil and gas industry; government agencies, such as MMS and the Coast Guard; and industry trade groups, including API, the Offshore Operators Committee, the National Ocean Industries Association, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

The program was created to cover activities, procedures, and operating hardware. It was designed to be flexible and responsive and to be a permanent part of a company's culture, objectives, and operations. Many offshore operators and contractors, including all API oil company members, have created safety and environmental management programs that follow the recommendations in RP75.

A SEMP program starts with an assessment of operating and design requirements and a hazards analysis. It requires establishment of safe operating procedures, work practices, management-of-change procedures, and associated training. It calls for procedures that ensure that the design, fabrication, installation, testing, inspection, monitoring, and maintenance of equipment meet safe (minimum) standards. In addition, it recommends periodic auditing of safety programs - and requires emergency response and incident investigation to help mitigate harm and prevent future mistakes.

Government oversight and regulation have also contributed to the industry's safety performance. Operators must obtain numerous federal permits and comply with many sets of federal and state regulations to operate on the federal OCS, including the Gulf of Mexico. Agencies that regulate offshore companies include MMS and the US Coast Guard, along with other federal, state, and local government entities. The industry has closely cooperated with government regulators to ensure that their rules are implemented in a way that encourages improved safety performance.

For the US offshore oil and gas industry, safety is a top priority and one of its proudest achievements. It has developed safety programs and standards that are second to none and that have helped achieve a safety record envied by many other industries. And yet, just as the US industry will certainly set more records for deepwater drilling and production, it will also continue to improve its safety performance, raising the bar for all offshore operators around the world.

P. K. (Peter) Velez
API Executive Committee on Drilling and Production Operations Manager,
Regulatory Affairs and Incident Commander,
Shell Exploration and Production Co.

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