Ken Salazar

U.S. on right track for safer oil drilling

Today, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will release its final report on the causes of the tragedy that killed 11 men and spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

While the commission has been hard at work investigating and developing recommendations, we have — over the last eight months — launched an aggressive reorganization and have dramatically increased safety standards and oversight of the oil and gas industry. In so doing, we have already implemented several of the key reforms the commission has made clear are necessary.

The commission's report comes at an important time. As the oil spill fades from the national headlines, political pressure is growing to roll back the safety and environmental protection standards we have put in place since April 2010. But to turn back the clock and ignore the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would be a grave and risky mistake.

Since the explosion and subsequent oil spill, the Interior Department has undertaken a massive overhaul of the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil and gas operations. We are eliminating conflicts in the agency's multiple missions, strengthening our enforcement and regulatory capabilities, expanding our team of inspectors, and have created an internal review unit to root out problems within the agency and in industry. Our goal is to build an agency with the resources and tools needed to provide effective, tough and fair oversight of offshore oil and gas operations.

As part of our reform agenda, we have also worked with oil and gas companies to ensure they are strengthening their safety practices, modernizing their equipment, and developing the tools needed to prevent and respond to deepwater blowouts. Companies are now required to meet new standards we have set for blowout preventers, well design, cementing practices, risk management, and worst-case offshore oil discharges.

We have made significant progress over the last eight months, but these reforms must continue. We will continue to work with industry to ensure they happen as quickly as possible.

The type of systemic reform we are implementing is not easy — nor can it be completed overnight — but everyone has a stake in its success.

We recognize that regulatory changes and new safety standards create challenges for the oil and gas industry. As these changes occur, we therefore have an obligation to provide as much clarity, certainty and consistency as possible.

Industry, for its part, must recognize that near-term investments in safety will pay dividends over the long term. Reducing the risk of spills and accidents is both the right thing to do and is good business. Technical advancements in drilling, blowout containment and spill response techniques can help, but the culture within the industry also needs to change so that safety and risk management permeates every decision on every rig and platform, every day.

Today, oil and gas exploration throughout the Gulf of Mexico is resuming as oil and gas operations come into compliance with post-Deepwater Horizon safety requirements.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement will continue processing drilling plans and applications to drill in the shallow and deep water. Production from existing wells in the gulf has continued unabated in the last year, and — without question — the Gulf of Mexico is, and will remain, a vital source for America's energy supplies for years to come.

We are on the right track toward safer, more environmentally responsible oil and gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf, and — as the commission has made clear — now is not the time to retreat from those efforts.

We must continue to press forward with reforms, guided by the findings of the commission and other investigations, with the support of Congress, and aided by the commitment from forward-thinking companies.

Because oil and gas development will continue to play a central role in meeting our nation's energy needs, we must get these important reforms right, so that we never again experience another Deepwater Horizon.

Ken Salazar is secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Michael R. Bromwich is director of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

U.S. on right track for safer oil drilling 01/11/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 6:44pm]

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