Feds Pitch Near Miss Reporting for Offshore

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 @ 11:04 AM gHale

Accidents are easy to spot and end up investigating to find the root cause, but near misses are another story entirely.

That is why federal regulators are asking the oil industry to open up and talk about when they dodge big accidents on offshore production platforms, rigs and drillships.

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This open dialog scenario comes eight months after the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) first pledged to create a system for tracking near-miss incidents. Studying near miss accidents could actually be a bigger help in avoiding bigger safety incidents in the offshore oil and gas environment.

BSEE officials said the confidential program, developed with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, is critical to learning more about close calls offshore and averting future accidents. But because it’s a voluntary program, industry buy-in is essential to making it work.

“The voluntary, confidential near-miss reporting system has the potential to help prevent catastrophic incidents that endanger lives and the environment,” said safety bureau Director Brian Salerno. “However, the tool is only as good as the information provided.”

The safety bureau has scheduled two workshops — April 22 in Los Angeles and April 24 in Houston — to outline the program and get ideas for the kinds of data they should be looking for.

“We will need to gather input from the offshore industry on how to design a system that will yield maximum value for overall safety improvements,” Salerno said.

The meetings also will give BSEE a shot at soothing any fears oil and gas companies have that reports will stay anonymous. Even if individual reports are anonymous, some industry representatives worry about how the information will end up used — and whether it could later come back to haunt some firms.

The BSEE is trying to emphasize the undercover nature of its program. The agency has even put “confidential” in the program’s formal name.

The agency said data collection and analysis will go out to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. In addition, they said, the work will end up protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. And the resulting data turned over to the safety bureau will end up aggregated, without details that could identify individual companies or callers.

“BSEE will not have access to identifying information and will not use these reports for enforcement action,” said Program Analyst Andre King.

Although the program is voluntary, one company must cooperate. In a Platts report, BP’s agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lift a government contract suspension tied to the 2010 Gulf oil spill includes a requirement the oil giant begin tracking indicators of safety problems.

BP has three months to begin collecting the data, including injury rates and instances where primary containment at a well ends up breached. Under the deal with EPA, BP has to report the data to its board and the safety bureau.

The 2010 oil spill sparked calls for the near miss reporting system; investigators who probed the Deepwater Horizon disaster said offshore drillers’ focus on individual worker injuries can blind them to warning signs of more fundamental process safety problems.

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