New rules for offshore rig safety coming into effect

Offshore oil and gas rigs will be subject to the SEMS II regulation starting on June 4, 2013.

As part of a broad push for tighter regulations that began in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) first created the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) – also frequently referred to simply as the Workplace Safety Rule – in October 2010.

Last month, the DOI's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published a notice in the Federal Register revealing the scope and shape of an updated set of regulations known as SEMS II. The major changes involve increased employee participation in the making of safety management decisions and a requirement that companies' SEMS programs be audited by an accredited third-party organization.

"Offshore oil and gas safety starts with a robust positive safety culture, and BSEE's workplace safety rules are designed to promote that culture by eliminating complacency and making sure that companies are looking at the human factors that underlie too many accidents," BSEE Director Jim Watson said in a press release announcing the new rules. "This effort takes another important step towards protecting workers and the environment from preventable accidents."

The new rules for offshore drilling rigs are just one component of a broader push by the Obama Administration to tighten regulation of the oil and gas industry at the federal level. Onshore oil and gas wells, particularly those sited on land leased from the government, are also likely to see increased regulatory scrutiny going forward, which means well operators will need to ensure that they are keeping up to date on all requirements, including regulations affecting oil production equipment.