Offshore oil and gas exploration is one of the most capital and human resource intensive industries. Significant health and safety (H&S) risks are associated with working in offshore oil and gas fields. Dermatitis, inhalation of hazardous substances, mental and physical health, isolation, injury, and loss of life and common H&S risks associated to offshore operations. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is the federal regulatory body that regulates offshore oil and gas operations for health, safety, and environmental protection. Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) program is the fundamental regulatory framework that is implemented by BSEE. The SEMS regulation has outlined many regulatory requirements related to H&S of employees and safe operations in offshore oil and gas industry. BSEE is also vested with enforcement authority within a broad framework that allows the regulator to issue non-compliance notices to operators, initiate probationary and disqualification procedures, and impose civil penalties. The paper briefly explains relevant issues of SEMS program.
The U.S. meets significant portion of its energy demand from oil and gas reserves situated at Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and Pacific. There are high stakes involved in oil and gas industry, both financially and strategically. Major risks are faced by those directly working at offshore exploration sites of gas and oil sites. Health and safety of workers at rigs, well-heads, and key operational sites remain challenging task for exploration companies and regulatory bodies. The remoteness of sites where these employees work is a significant barrier to providing an assisted backup medical and safety service. The locational barriers arise from exploration wells being areas such as deep-water locations ranging from Arctic to tropical weather conditions. Many hazards such as physical, chemical hazards, ergonomic hazards, and psychological hazards pose serious threat to health of employees working at off-shore oil and gas exploration sites. International Labor Organization (ILO) identified these hazards some 20 years ago and since then, employers along with state and federal governments are expected to minimize and mitigate health-safety risks in the sector. Various chemical hazards include exposure to hydrogen sulphide, wielding fumes, acids, and chemical coatings. Mechanical hazards involve exposure to heavy machinery in off-shore sites. Physical hazards are those related to thermal extremes. Psychological health hazards are those that emancipate from working in isolation and for long hours (Gardner, 2003).
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), formed in 2011 after the fateful incident of death of 11 workers at April 20, 2010 in Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit (MODU) at Deep water Horizon. This resulted in oil spill at Macondo well managed by British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) were formed after devolving BOEMRE. Regulations and enforcement policies and programs are devised and implemented by BSEE. Lately, there has been much criticism over BSEE's role in minimizing the role of Coast Guard (CG) and Organization of Health and Safety (OHSA) to monitor and regulate offshore oil and gas industry compliance with health safety requirements of employees. The major field in which BSEE is expected to ensure compliance and initiate enforcement proceedings is the Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS). In order to mitigate health and safety risks associated with offshore oil and gas exploration activities, SEMS program is an industry-wide process safety standard to address the issue. It was initially developed by oil and gas exploration industry as Safety and Environment Management Program (SEMP) in 1993, also published by American Petroleum Association (API) in 2004 under the same title. Following is an overview and requirements of the program.
Several health risks have been long identified and associated with the working condition at offshore sites of oil and gas reserves. Inhalation risks arising from hazardous substances are the most obviously reported incidents of health risks. Dermatitis is also another major health risk posed to the personnel working in the wells and at rigs of oil and gas fields. Due to the nature of structures established at oil fields and rigs, noise and vibration related harm to the hearing ability of personnel have also been widely reported (Gardner, 2003). Physical health along with psychosocial well-being of offshore workers is also said to have negative impacts if Health and Safety (H&S) is neglected on these sites (Ross, 2009). Atkinson, et al. (2008) conducted an empirical research on shift workers and concluded that shift work generally decreases opportunities of 'physical exercise'. This is specifically true for offshore oil and gas industry workers and this negatively impacts their physical and mental well-being. The risk to health and safety of offshore oil and gas industry workers is a universal challenge (Mearns & Yule, 2009) not just that of U.K and the U.S.
Overview and requirements of SEMS
Safety and Environmental Management Program (SEMP) is broad framework that can be used by offshore oil and gas exploration companies to ensure compliance with optimal standards of safety of workers as well as field operations. The program pertains to safety in oil, gas, and sulfur operations in outer continental shelf (OCS). The SEMS regulation adopted in 30 CFR 250 by BSEE, areas covered to apply are well work-over, drilling, construction, Department of Interior (DOI) pipeline services, well servicing, and well completion (AcuTech, 2012). The program outlines operating and design requirements followed by a hazards analysis guideline. The BSEE SEMS regulation adopted in 2010 makes it mandatory for oil, gas, and Sulfur exploration firms to entirely adopt the 2004 publication of API "Recommended Practice for Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program," reaffirmed in 2008 (API, 2012).
The general requirements of SEMS relate to well and rig lessees, operating owners, contractors, and sub-contractors. By virtue of SEMS program, all contractors and subcontractors of operating owners are tasked to maintain safety policies and procedures in written format at all times of operations. Foremost in the general requirements is the provision of best available and safest machinery use for drilling purposes. During the process of drilling, monitoring and evaluation of the process needs to be carried out to ensure that oil or gas well does not kick or flow. It is also a general requirement for operating oil and gas wells that the owners must "assess, address, and manage safety, environmental hazards, and potential health impacts during i) design ii) construction iii) start-up of operations, monitoring, and maintenance of all facilities. A person as representative of i) lessee ii) or operating owner iii) or contractor iv) or sub-contractor shall at all times be present to fulfill the responsibilities established virtue of SEMS program. In context of rig and well operations, the general requirements guide the operator/concerned executor that unless the drilling site is secured with bridge plugs, blowout preventers (BOPs), and cement plugs, adequate human surveillance should be maintained by deploying tool pusher or operators representative at rig floor. Subpart O of the SEMS regulation was made mandatory to follow for training of deployment staff at the rig floor. Maintenance of i) materials and ii) equipment for personnel security and safety is also recommended ("Code of Federal Regulations," 2012). During maintenance or securing procedures, application of down-hole safety devices was also required from the operators. Drilling should be interrupted if any of the following event takes place i) Evacuation of crew ii) Rig location displacement iii) repair or maintenance of rig. It was also required of the operating entity to report to the district manager regarding arrival of MODU on site, movement of platform rig, and departure of MODU amongst many other sub-requirements. Form BSEE -- 0144 was to be used for MODU movement intimation in GOM: OCS region ("Code of Federal Regulations," 2012).
Definition of roles and responsibilities
Director: Director of Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) of the U.S. Department of Interior or a person authorized to act on behalf of director. The director is responsible for overall execution of BSEE operations in outer continental shelf (OCS). Director is also responsible for preventing injury or loss of life from exploration operations. Cooperation and consultation with affected states is also part of Director's on job responsibility.
Regional Director: A person that is an officer of BSEE holding the authority/responsibility for a region within the jurisdiction of BSEE. The regional director is responsible for executing policy and strategies under the supervision of Director of BSEE. The regional director directly reports to the director. District Manager: A person that is an officer of BSEE and holds authority/responsibility over a district within the jurisdiction of BSEE. DM holds the responsibility to ensure compliance with BSEE regulations including site operational requirements, specifically SEMS regulation. Operator: It may be an individual, firm, Corporation, or/and partnership that controls whole/part of management of leased portion of oil and gas exploration in OCS. The operator may also be BSEE or BOEM approved agent of Lessee or holder of operating rights in the leased part. The major responsibilities of operator include the management of operations at wells, rigs, and offshore jurisdictions leased by…