As the oil and gas industry watches for offshore regulations regarding BOPs and well control response, leaders of industry trade groups touted strides made toward improving offshore safety as the fifth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy nears.

Since 2010, the American Petroleum Institute has published more than 100 new and revised standards for E&P safety, including BOP standards updating preventative maintenance, inspection and testing procedures and guidelines, Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said on a media call April 9.

While the industry has had an impressive record offshore U.S., operators and rig contractors have had their share of incidents, including damages to a facility and loss of position incidents such as drifting that could lead to collisions.

The standards come in addition to a slew of improvements, including two deepwater containment systems—one by the Marine Well Containment Co. and another by the HWCG LLC, capable of operating in water depths of up to 10,000 ft and processing 100,000 barrels of liquid per day and 200 million cubic feet of gas per day.

“We’re not waiting around for regulators to lead that way. We are leading that way through best practices and standards,” Gerard said. “We’re anxious to see how the regulators are going to come forward now that they’ve seen industry’s best practices and what we’ve done post-Macondo. … We’re hopeful that the regulators will recognize all of that so it’s a positive outcome, a positive collaborative effort, and not unnecessary duplication or overregulation.”

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has not said exactly when a proposal will be released, but Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke March 17 briefly on the proposed rule, noting that industry technology would play a part in the regulations.

“We can’t forget the lessons learned after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy,” Jewell said. “We will propose a rule in the coming weeks that raises the bar on blowout preventers and well control measures based on technological progress advanced by industry.”

The Macondo incident, which claimed 11 lives on April 20, 2010, is “a stark reminder that producing energy is not without risk,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. “It is the responsibility of everyone in the oil and gas industry to reduce that risk each and every day.”

Stephen Colville, president and CEO of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, said collaboration has resulted in new technologies, operating systems and programs that address equipment and promote a culture of safety.

Progress has been made on automated kick detection systems, emergency containment and production infrastructure. Improved pore pressure prediction during planning and subsalt drilling and improved well control and response modeling for well design has been instituted since 2010, he said.

Luthi said the industry learned from the Horizon and applied those lessons, including:

  • Development of enhanced surface response capability, such as the two deepwater containment systems;
  • Joint industry task forces and
  • Working together, and at times with regulators, on new or updated regulations including rules on safety and environmental management systems, dynamic positioning and operations in the Arctic.

“Though more regulations does not necessarily guarantee a safer environment, particularly in the last few years we have seen regulators and industry reach out to each other to better understand what is expected and what can be done to improve safety,” Luthi said. “This level of cooperation sets a firm basis for enhanced safety and it is our goal that the communications lines remain open.”

Since the GoM spill, the Well Control Institute (WCI) and the Center for Offshore Safety (COS) were also formed. The WCI works to find solutions to issues such as rig crew communication, personnel competency or other human factors, Colville said.

Launched in 2011, the COS is devoted to fostering safety and sharing best practices throughout the industry, Gerard said.

“A report published this week by COS on its members’ operations in 2013 show they did not suffer a single fatality or loss of well control over the course of more than 42 million work hours,” he said. “That is a marker we must build and improve upon every single day.”

The report did, however, point to the need for further improvement in several areas.

Data shared by COS members, from 12 operators and eight rig contractors and services companies, revealed several process safety events, two incidents that caused at least $1 million in damage to a facility, vessel or equipment and six loss of station keeping incidents resulting in a drive off or drift off.

The most frequent type of incident that year involved mechanical lifting.

Gerard said the industry’s goal is zero accidents and zero spills.

“Our daily commitment is one of constant improvement until that goal becomes reality,” he said.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at