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Feds shake up offshore energy inspections

Feds shake up offshore energy inspections; will send teams of inspectors instead of single auditors

Ocean agency’s hiring enables it to alter offshore evaluation process


June 13, 2011, 10:37PM

WASHINGTON — Government inspections of thousands of offshore oil and gas facilities now will involve teams of federal workers rather than just a single auditor under a plan announced Monday.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said the move was made possible by the agency’s recent hires of new inspectors and the promise of more to come.

“As more inspectors are hired, we will be deploying multidisciplinary inspection teams instead of individual inspectors,” bureau director Michael Bromwich said in a statement. He added that the team-based review would provide “broader oversight to ensure that offshore operators are complying with federal regulations and conducting their operations in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

The agency was able to bring on the new staff with an influx of cash from the fiscal 2011 spending bill that Congress passed in April.

Thirteen new inspectors just went through their initial training, jobs have been offered to five more people, and the agency is recruiting others, including experts in production techniques, well operations, accident investigations and deep-water drilling.

At the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 last year, the ocean energy bureau’s predecessor agency had 56 inspectors dedicated to the Gulf. The number since has grown to 79.

A formal training process

All offshore inspectors soon will be going through the agency’s first formal training process, heeding a recommendation from internal agency audits and the presidential commission that investigated the oil spill.

Ultimately, the ocean energy bureau – part of the Interior Department – said the training will include more than two dozen courses designed to cover the ins and outs of offshore inspections. A training director who has not yet been hired will oversee the program and other educational initiatives.

Bromwich said the formal curriculum would ensure “a more rigorous and consistent inspections program across the agency.”

Varies a lot

Reports by the Government Accountability Office and the Interior Department’s inspector general have documented wide variations in the way inspections are conducted from the West Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

Last December, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, faulted the ocean energy bureau’s inspection program as “not standardized and poorly defined.”

“As a result, policies and enforcement mechanisms vary among the Gulf of Mexico districts and the regions,” the inspector general’s report concluded. “Currently, no formal process exists to promote standardization, consistency and operational efficiency.”

The agency historically has focused on inspecting offshore drilling facilities, although it also does on-site reviews of oil and gas production operations on the outer continental shelf.

According to the Interior Department’s inspector general, in 2009, there were 561 inspections of drilling rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and about 3,300 inspections of offshore facilities that produce oil and gas.

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