21 Months On: The API Revisit Macondo And Voices The Lessons Learned

Holly Hopkins

In this exclusive Oil & Gas IQinterview, Holly Hopkins, Senior Policy Advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API) speaks with Oil & Gas iQ’s Editor In Chief, Tim Haðdar, about the lay of the regulatory landscape after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Blowout.

Oil & Gas IQ: Holly, thanks for joining us today.

H Hopkins: Thanks for having me.

Oil & Gas IQ: Let’s get straight into it. In what ways would you say that America’s approach in HSE in offshore safety is different to European counterparts?

H Hopkins: Generally, I’d say regulation in the US is more prescriptive versus more performance-based regulation by our European counterparts. Safe operations are important around the world. Europe and the US are facing a global economic challenge and our ability to produce oil and natural gas can be a big boost for fuelling our economy. In the US, new leases could generate billions of dollars in government revenue in just seven years if energy companies are allowed to get back to work in the Gulf to pre-Macondo levels.

Oil & Gas IQ: What has the API been doing to update its policies in the last 12 months?

H Hopkins: Immediately after the incident, API led the industry in forming four joint industry task forces to examine every aspect of its safety systems, including equipment, operating procedures, sub-sea well control and spill response.

The most important objective was to immediately review and move industry standards to a higher level. The taskforces also worked with the regulator and the Presidential Oil Spill Commission to help with the recommendations for offshore safety improvements, including changes to regulations.

The industry issued, and subsequently revised, an industry standard dealing with cementing operations and we are now completing work on two new standards: one on deep water well design construction and one on well construction interface, which is a bridging document between the operator and drilling contractor on a well by well basis. In addition, several other API documents are being revised, based on lessons learned from the incident, including documents from BOP design, manufacture and operations.

The industry has developed the capability to address the unique challenges of capping a well that is releasing oil thousands of feet below the water surface. The Marine Well Containment Corporation and the Helix Well Containment Group both provide containment technology and response.

For oil spill response, a focused effort was undertaken to assess the oil spill response system as a whole and the response to the Macondo event.

In the wake of any spill response, we always look for ways to improve and we have formed more than 25 individual groups to look at various aspects of spill response, such as mechanical recovery, dispersants, oil spill plans and others. These groups have completed their initial assessments, identified what worked well, and have now begun to address any areas where improvements can be made.

API also announced the creation of the Centre for Offshore safety, which will bring our best minds and expertise together to further help operators strive for and maintain the highest levels of safety performance. The centre will apply the best elements of the most successful existing safety programmes and will rely on independent auditing and certification by third parties.

Oil & Gas IQ: You’ve gone into it a little bit there, but how are the API approaching major challenges in HSE and what are your solutions to remedy them?

H Hopkins: API and industry are committed to a goal of zero fatalities, zero injuries and zero incidents. Our industry takes any safety or environmental incident as an opportunity to learn and to improve technology, training, operational procedures, industry standards and best practices.

In addition to the Centre for Offshore Safety, the API standards programme, which dates back to the 1920s, provides an ongoing opportunity for continuous improvement by and corroboration among companies throughout the industry, regulators and other stakeholders and are accredited by ANSI, the American National Standards Institute. API standards raise the level of safety performance across the industry; standards will continue to be periodically evaluated and upgraded as appropriate.

Oil & Gas IQ: How much of a wakeup call was Macondo for the oil and gas industry in the United States? I know that Piper Alpha was a massive event for the North Sea; I wonder if you could tell me what kind of effect Macondo has really had.

H Hopkins: It has had a major effect. It was a huge wakeup call. Obviously, we always strive to operate safely; this gave us our chance to go back and look at all of our operations and make improvements where they could be made and to raise industry standards and best practices across the board.

Oil & Gas IQ:I guess, with regards to HSE, there are these periodic events - be it an Ocean Ranger or a Piper Alpha or a Macondo - that really bring HSE to the fore. Does Oil and Gas still need this periodic wakeup call? Shouldn’t we be awake the whole time?

H Hopkins: We certainly should. We strive for zero fatalities and zero injuries and zero incidents, and we are always looking at our industry best practices and standards and revising them.

The API standards that we have are revised on a five year cycle and so we take a look at those every five years and see what improvements can be made and what should be done, what new technology maybe has come about and how operations have changed, making sure that we are keeping up with that.

Unfortunately, you’re correct; tragedies usually highlight and bring to the forefront our shortcomings or those things that we could do better, so they do serve as an opportunity for lessons learned. It is unfortunate that tragedies do have that unintended consequence, but we’re always working to improve and bring about the best standards and operating practices that we can. I do think that, while we are continuously improving, these events do tend to put the spotlight a little brighter than they would normally.

Oil & Gas IQ: Holly, without giving the whole game away - the Offshore Safety Summit is still a few months away yet - can you give us a little flavour of what you’re actually going to be talking about at the event?

H Hopkins: Certainly. I’m going to cover the joint industry taskforce work that has been done in the last... at that time it will be almost two years. I’m going to cover the new documents that we have been creating over the last year and a half – API RP96, API and IDC Bulletin 97 – and several other documents that we’ve been working on and revising in response to the incident and lessons learned. I’ll also be talking in more detail about the Centre for Offshore Safety based in Houston.

COS as we’ve come to call it, is going to bring together the best minds and expertise to further help operators strive and maintain the highest levels of safety performance. It’s going to be open to all operators and contractors in the Gulf of Mexico that operate in deep water. Initially we’re going to base it on BESI's Safety and Environmental Management System’s rule that they issued in October of last year, which is also based on API RP75, which are safety and environmental management programmes.

The initial work that the centre is going to do is going to be based on compliance with that rule. We’re going to conduct independent third party audits and we will be able to learn from those audits and then share information across the industry, so the hope is that we can raise the bar for all operations in deep water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil & Gas IQ: Holly, thanks for your time today. I really appreciate it and look forward to seeing you from 19th March onwards in Aberdeen.

H Hopkins: Thanks, Tim.