Interior Issues Directive Strengthening Blowout Prevention Requirements for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations

Last edited 09/29/2021

Washington, DC - As part of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's continuing agenda to strengthen safety and oversight of offshore oil and gas operations, the Department of the Interior today issued a directive to oil and gas lessees and operators requiring them, when they file for a new drilling permit, exploration plan, or development plan, to submit information that addresses the possibility of a blowout and details steps they are taking to prevent blowouts.

The directive reverses a policy adopted in 2003 and included in a 2008 “Notice to Lessees” under the previous Administration that exempted many offshore oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico from submitting certain information – to accompany exploration or development plans – about a blowout scenario and worst-case discharge.

“The BP oil spill has laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry's ability to prevent and stop catastrophic blowouts,” said Secretary Salazar. “While the challenges of intervening in a catastrophic blowout are significantly greater in deepwater than in shallow water, all operators should provide basic information about potential blowouts, and steps that are being taken to reduce the possibility of a blow out."

Added Salazar, “this is basic information that applicants should be able to provide; it should not delay permitting of appropriate shallow water drilling."

The Notice to Lessees (“Blowout Scenario NTL”) requires oil and gas operators to submit information for Exploration Plans (EP), Development and Production Plans (DPP) and Development Operations Coordination Documents (DOCD) that includes:

  • An estimated flow rate, total volume, and maximum duration of the potential blowout;
  • A discussion of the potential for the well to bridge over, the likelihood for surface intervention to stop the blowout, the availability of a rig to drill a relief well, and rig package constraints;
  • Estimates of the time it would take to contract for a rig, move it onsite, and drill a relief well; and
  • A description of the assumption and calculations used to determine the volume of a worst case discharge scenario.

The Blowout Scenario NTL is the latest in a series of reforms to the oversight and management of offshore energy resources and activities, including:

  • Implementation of immediate safety requirements for offshore oil and gas operations;
  • Establishing a 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling;
  • Appointing Michael R. Bromwich to lead reforms to oil and gas oversight and management;
  • Postponing consideration of potential exploratory drilling in the Arctic.

Secretary Salazar said that the Department of the Interior, together with the Council on Environmental Quality, is also conducting a review of the Minerals Management Service's procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act.

On June 2, the Department of the Interior announced that offshore lessees and operators in federal waters would be required to submit additional safety and environmental information for exploration and development plans. The Blowout Scenario NTL and NTL No. 2010-N05, Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the OCS formally require offshore lessees and operators to submit the additional information required. As a result of ongoing investigations and safety and environmental reviews, Interior may issue further notices to lessees requiring additional information for exploration or development plans.

To view the NTL issued today, click here.


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