NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
Six Years Later, Final Deepwater Horizon Rules Increase PE Role
BY ARIELLE EISER
Licensed professional engineers have an increased role in protecting the public health, safety, and welfare under new federal regulations developed in response to the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster.
On April 29, 2016, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced the final comprehensive safety regulations developed in response to the disaster that began in April 2010. The initial explosion took place aboard an offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico and resulted in 11 deaths. The blowout discharged an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil over 87 days. The final rule, which consolidates several recommendations from multiple investigations, establishes improved protocols to increase safety measures.
Specifically, in the final rulemaking (Oil and Gas and Sulfur Operations in the Outer Continental Shelf Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control), the BSEE requires a PE in cementing and casing situations to examine, review, approve, and certify changes or remedial measures. For example, the final rule requires PE certification for changes to casing setting depth or hole interval drilling depth and changes to the well program due to an inadequate cement job.
This comprehensive, detailed rule brings to an end a massive six-year effort to develop and implement safety rules after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Throughout this process, NSPE has been advocating for a key role for professional engineers. In December 2010, NSPE provided remarks to the Chemical Safety Board on this issue. The testimony stated, “Licensed professional engineers should have direct supervision over all engineering design, operations, and maintenance of offshore oil rigs. Professional engineers are licensed by the government, which requires them to meet and maintain an acceptable standard of competence. Professional engineers are also bound by a code of ethics to make decisions only in their areas of expertise. Most critically, professional engineers are ethically obligated to protect public health and safety above all other concerns…. Because of their proven competence and commitment to the public health and safety, NSPE recommends that offshore oil rigs employ professional engineers to supervise all engineering design, operations, and maintenance decisions.”
On April 2015, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced its proposed draft rule, which included the proposed requirement for a licensed PE in cementing and casing situations to examine, review, approve, and certify changes or remedial measures. NSPE submitted a public comment commending the agency for proposing this critical requirement but also calling on the agency to reconsider NSPE’s request for a licensed PE to have direct supervision over all engineering design, operations, and maintenance of offshore oil rigs.
Although the final rule did not include a requirement for a licensed PE to have direct supervision over all engineering work aboard an offshore oil rig, the requirement for a licensed PE in cementing and casing situations to examine, review, approve, and certify changes or remedial measures is a significant victory for the profession and, most importantly, it enhances the public health, safety, and welfare.