Bromwich Introduces Even More Uncertainty Into Offshore Drilling

Heckuva job, Brommie.

The offshore oil and gas industry can anticipate further new rules to enhance drilling safety, Michael Bromwich, head of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said Wednesday.

“We anticipate the advance notice of rulemaking will be extremely broad,” Bromwich said. “It will contemplate a large body of possible improvements and enhancements to our current regulations including BOPs (blow-out preventers), which I’ve talked about many times, but I think that is only one example.

“One of the reasons we’re giving advance notice is to make sure we capture the broad range of potential ideas for safety enhancements that may be out there, so we’re looking for suggestions from within the government, we’re looking for suggestions from industry, and we’re certainly looking for suggestions from Tom (Hunter) and his committee and subcommittees,” Bromwich said.

First of all, there was one major oil spill last year. One. Before that it had been more than 30 years since there had been a major spill in the Gulf. And the spill which happened last year can’t happen again, because the oil industry did what Bromwich asked for and developed not one but two competing containment systems which could deploy in a matter of a couple of days.

Not to mention that the environmental consequences of that spill appear to be largely oversold. Sure, you can find evidence the BP spill is still affecting the Gulf’s ecosystem – but you can’t find much of it on the coast. Or at least, you certainly can’t find what the environuts said you’d find. And every day it gets better out there.

Because after all, natural oil seepage from the Gulf sea floor has been going on since the beginning of time. The idea there would be zero oil out there is in and of itself a manmade concept.

Given that, BOEMRE was within the bounds of reason to propose some higher standards and practices within the offshore oil industry – even though the BP spill resulted from a departure from the standards and practices of the rest of the industry in the first place.

Of course, Bromwich and his boss Ken Salazar went far past that point in instituting a never-ending parade of new regulations. Now he says he’s not done. Which means people who would normally want to drill for oil in the Gulf – which is already one of the most expensive places in the world to drill – will have no clue what it will cost in logistics and money in order to drill.

This wasn’t lost on the recipients of Bromwich’s announcement…

One suggestion Wednesday was that Bromwich temper his rhetoric. That came from Owen Kratz, president and CEO of Helix Energy Solutions Group, one of two companies that developed the well containment capacity that enabled BOEMRE earlier this year to resume permitting of deepwater drilling.

“Don’t come out and say that,” Kratz said of Bromwich’s assertions that broad new regulatory changes were in the offing.

“Maybe that was a political sound bite, but of course you’re going to always look for continual improvement, but you don’t need to scare everybody by saying we’re going to come and change all the rules tomorrow,” said Kratz, who was in Washington participating in the National Summit on Energy Security, which brought together business executives, retired military officers and top former government officials to talk about the national security risk of the nation’s dependence on oil.

“The problem is when he comes out and says something broad like that, or they write overly broad regulations, like NTL-10 (in which BOEMRE set subsea containment requirements), the actual worker bees in the BOEM don’t know how to interpret that, and what they do is they implement it according to the letter,” said Kratz, who said that, Bromwich’s Wednesday comments notwithstanding, “things are infinitely better than they were and the BOEM working relationship with industry is a lot better than it was.”

Of course, this kind of regulatory chaos and overreach goes far beyond just offshore oil – it’s endemic to commercial life in Obama’s America. But with word that increased oil imports at high prices drove the May trade deficit over $50 billion and with crude hovering near $100 a barrel despite the president’s political stunt of dumping product from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, one struggles to understand why adults in the administration – if they indeed exist, which is a dubious prospect – don’t think to rein Bromwich in before he kills the industry completely.

That no one has bothered to take those steps indicates this isn’t about Bromwich. The problem originates well above his pay grade.

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