NEW ORLEANS - In the wake of Eyewitness Investigation’s exclusive report Thursday that federal regulators had not conducted a single audit of offshore oil and gas companies’ safety systems, an industry agency says it’s ready to ramp up its own safety reviews.
Charlie Williams, the head of the industry-run Center for Offshore Safety in Houston, says audits by independent third parties are about to accelerate considerably, now that COS has certified people to perform the new audits.
“We wanted to make sure we had a process for accrediting those audit service providers that were going to do them,” Williams said. “So we set out to do accreditation requirements and training requirements for those auditors, and that's the work we just completed.”
The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement told us they haven't done any of their own audits because they wanted oil companies to do their own checks – to get them to "buy in" to the new safety rules imposed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy and catastrophic oil spill.
But two years after those new rules took effect, and a year after all offshore operators were supposed to have a safety system in place, the industry hasn't exactly rushed to do their own audits. Of 120 oil and gas companies in the gulf, only four have completed independent audits.
The oil companies have less than a year to complete their own safety audits under the new SEMS Rule. Don Boesch, a former member of President Obama's 2010 Oil Spill Commission and head of the environmental studies center at the University of Maryland, is wary of giving too much control to an industry that has stood against independent safety controls in the past.
“The Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) that the Department of Interior has put in place is something that was long delayed by industry resistance before the oil spill in 2010,” Boesch said. “So they acted quickly and put the process as a rule and implementation, but it's now been two years and of course we'd like to see more progress as far as these audits being completed.”
But Williams said his group has not stood in the way of the government conducting any of its own audits. On the contrary, he encouraged the government to follow through on its initial plan to do SEMS audits to weed out the unsafe operators.
“Their intention around SEMS was really to do it on that basis, so if they saw a need they could either cause the operator to do a SEMS audit or could do the audit themselves based on the need,” Williams said. “And one of the assessments of need would be based on the safety performance or the INCs (Incidents of Non-Compliance) that any particular operator got. So, yeah, they fully intended to do that.” Fully intended – but didn't, according to the BSEE records Eyewitness Investigations uncovered recently. Those records made reference to lists of operators with poorer safety records and data for measuring how different companies stack up on safety, but the agency refused to provide the information we requested.
It also declined to provide on-the-record responses to questions about its failure to perform any safety audits.