Energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico will need to improve maintenance of blowout preventers and train employees working with the devices designed to stop a runaway well, the U.S. Interior Department said.
The agency is planning to propose a rule by September, and will ask that drillers ensure the units can cut, or shear, the pipe to completely seal a failing well, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said today at a forum in Washington. The rule also will require sensors on the devices to alert companies about mishaps in the deep water, he said.
The Obama administration is considering additional requirements for the $45 million, five-story tall devices after a unit used by BP Plc (BP/) in 2010 was jammed by a portion of a pipe, and failed to prevent the largest U.S. offshore spill. More than 100 people from industry and government were at the forum hosted by the Interior Department.
“Today’s focus on the blowout preventer is our continuing effort to make sure that we are exploring and developing our oil and gas resources in the America’s oceans in a safe and responsible way,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters. “This rule will basically set the standards for the world.”
The blowout preventer sits atop the wellhead to regulate the force propelling oil and gas up the pipe. If the device fails to control the fluctuating pressure, a large blade is designed to sever, or shear, the pipe to choke the flow and, like a window blind blocking the light, prevent explosive gases from reaching the rig and crews on the surface.
Elements of the new rule may add costs for energy producers, although it’s worth the investment to avoid future disasters, Mark Denkowski, International Association of Drilling Contractors vice president for accreditation and certification, said in an interview today.
Under already adopted rules, drillers need independent third-party verification that their devices work, and must show evidence of inspections and maintenance. Operators also must maintain safety and environmental programs, and provide management oversight of operations and contractors under the current rules.
The Interior Department also is preparing a safety rule for equipment such as the subsea valves used in oil production, updating the standards adopted two decades ago, James Watson, director of the department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told reporters today.
At the forum, Salazar asked the industry whether two sets of blind shear rams are needed to ensure the units don’t fail.
BP added double shear rams on all its Gulf of Mexico operations in the standards adopted by the London-based company before resuming work in the Gulf.
The blind shear rams at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf failed to complete a seal in April 2010 because they were jammed by a portion of drill pipe knocked out of alignment in the explosion, Oslo-based Det Norske Veritas, a management-risk company, found in a report commissioned by the Interior Department and published last year.
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