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US Oil-Spill Response Cos Seek Permission to Operate in Cuban Waters

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by  Tennille Tracy

Several U.S. companies are asking the Obama administration for permission to respond to potential oil spills in Cuban waters, a top offshore drilling regulator said Wednesday, hoping to overcome embargo restrictions that currently limit their ability to do so.

The companies’ requests coincide with a growing concern among oil-industry experts who say the U.S. embargo on Cuba could cripple the ability of spill-containment companies to respond to potential spills that start in Cuban waters but then move to U.S. shores.

Speaking at a congressional hearing Wednesday, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich said several companies have asked the U.S. Commerce Department for licenses that would allow them to use subsea well containment systems and other types of equipment to respond to spills in Cuban waters.

Bromwich said he had “a high level of confidence” the Commerce Department would approve the licenses, in large part because it had already issued separate approvals for oil-spill containment systems and cleanup items. U.S. government agencies “are very much on alert, looking for the licenses [applications] as they come in and my understanding is that they’re giving them very rapid attention and they’re approving them as promptly as they can.”

The administration’s efforts are not without controversy. The chairman of the House Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.), said Wednesday that he is concerned “this administration will weaken the U.S. embargo on Cuba.”

Earlier in the week, the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to do more to prevent Cuba’s oil-drilling plans. “This scheme endangers U.S. security and environmental interests, and will enrich the Cuban regime,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a Cuban-born American, said.

Many environmental and oil-industry experts have taken a different approach and have urged the administration to give broad flexibility to U.S. companies that are equipped to respond to spills.

They contend Cuba will pursue oil exploration, regardless of whether the U.S. disapproves, so the U.S. should simply prepare for possible accidents.

Cuba’s offshore drilling plans get under way in coming months when Spanish company Repsol starts to conduct exploratory drilling off the country’s northern coast. Repsol is transporting a Chinese-built rig to be used for the exploration work.

Repsol has voluntarily agreed to allow U.S. officials to inspect the rig before it enters Cuban waters. The company has also agreed to comply with U.S. drilling standards.

Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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Would U.S. Export Laws Hinder Efforts To Mitigate Cuban Oil Spills?

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by Clif Burns

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing yesterday, reported here by the Oil & Gas Journal, on the possible impact of exploratory oil drilling by non-U.S. companies in Cuban territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Michael R. Bromwich, Director of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”) tried to assure the Committee that U.S. companies could respond quickly to an oil spill in Cuban waters notwithstanding the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

He said that the US Departments of Commerce and the Treasury have a long-standing practice of providing licenses to address environmental challenges in Cuban waters, and that DOC’s Bureau of Industry and Security has issued a number of them for booms, skimmers, dispersants, pumps, and other equipment and supplies to minimize environmental damage from a spill. “I believe the Commerce and Treasury departments would move quickly to approve more licenses if needed,” he said.

Not all witnesses before the Committee shared Bromwich’s rosy view of our ability to respond to a Cuban spill:

Paul A. Schuler, president of Clean Caribbean & Americas, an international spill response cooperative operating in the region, said only three US companies have such licenses that must be renewed every 1-2 years. “It needs to be handled in advance, and not as an ad hoc action as part of a response to an oil spill,” Schuler said. “Others would have to go through the entire licensing process, and my experience has been that it has not been quick.”

I suspect that exporters with experience obtaining licenses from BIS and OFAC might also share Schuler’s scepticism about whether the agencies could move quickly on licenses by U.S. companies to provide clean-up services in Cuban waters (which would require an OFAC license) and export equipment to be used in that clean-up effort (which would require a BIS license).

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Breaking Precedent: Oil Firms Face Liability Protection Challenges

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By gCaptain Staff

HOUSTON —The U.S. government broke precedent by issuing citations to contractors Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd. in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, along with rig operator BP PLC.

While now facing greater scrutiny from regulators, contractors in the oil-service industry have considerable liability protection to fight the citations and any subsequent fines, legal experts say. They also have enough market muscle to strengthen liability protection in their contracts with oil companies.

Previously, U.S. regulators have held the rig operator responsible for whatever happens under its watch. The operator hired contractors, who perform drilling, seismic or cementing operations and whose contracts protected them from any liability.

That was upended by the Deepwater Horizon mishap in April 2010, which resulted in 11 deaths, the biggest accidental marine oil spill in history, and tens of billions of dollars in costs. BP said blame also falls on Halliburton, which was in charge of cementing the failed well shut, and Transocean, the drilling contractor that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig. U.S. investigations have widely cast the blame among all three companies.

The citations, issued Wednesday, set a precedent for holding contractors at least partially responsible for such accidents, and may increase the contractors’ exposure to civil suits from anyone claiming damages from the spill, analysts said.

The contractors have pledged to fight the accusations. Halliburton said that it is fully protected against penalties and losses from the Deepwater Horizon incident by its contract with BP. Transocean also said it intends to appeal.

However, if the courts determine that the government has the right to issue a citation to oil-service contractors, there is no contract that will protect them from the fine, according to Larry Nettles, an environmental attorney with Vinson & Elkins, a Houston law firm. “In most jurisdictions the courts do not allow indemnification for fines and penalties, because it defeats the purpose,” which is to punish bad behavior, Mr. Nettles said.

Still the industry is expected to bulk up its contracts even more in the wake of the regulators’ action, legal experts say, to get as much liability protection as possible. The contractors currently have considerable bargaining power to win such new concessions from rig operators on contract protection. Relatively high oil prices have led to a shortage of drilling crews and have put oilfield services at a premium, giving the contractors the upper hand in negotiations.

“When oil prices are high and there’s lots of activity, service contractors can drive a very hard bargain,” said Owen Anderson, a professor of law specializing in energy at the University of Oklahoma.

(c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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USA: BOEMRE Awards USD 5.6 Million for Environmental Study of Hanna Shoal

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The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced it has signed a cooperative agreement with the University of Texas at Austin and a team of highly qualified and experienced Arctic researchers for a comprehensive study of the Hanna Shoal ecosystem in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. The study will be conducted from 2011-2016 and is expected to cost $5,645,168.

Ongoing studies have highlighted Hanna Shoal as an important biological ecosystem between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean waters. BOEMRE analysts and decision makers will use the information developed by this study in future National Environmental Policy Act analyses and decision-making regarding potential energy development in the Chukchi Sea.

Over the course of many years, we have devoted substantial resources to promote better understanding of the Arctic environment,” said BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich. “This five-year study will greatly contribute to the body of knowledge regarding the biological diversity of the Hanna Shoal area and will provide additional valuable information about the ecosystem that supports marine life.”

The main objectives of the study are to identify and measure important physical and biological processes that contribute to the high concentration of marine life in the Hanna Shoal area. The study will document physical and oceanographic features, ice conditions, and information concerning local species. BOEMRE will integrate data gained from this study with other relevant Chukchi Sea studies to provide a more complete understanding of environmental considerations such as food web and contaminant bioaccumulations.

Dr. Kenneth H. Dunton, University of Texas at Austin, will serve as Principal Investigator. His team will include researchers from the Florida Institute of Technology, Old Dominion University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Maryland, the University of Rhode Island​, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. BOEMRE will be involved in all phases of the study, including substantial input to the field research design and coordinating with other research efforts in the Chukchi Sea to ensure BOEMRE information needs are met. BOEMRE staff may also participate in field cruises, field data interpretations and analyses, and in writing articles that flow from research that will be conducted under this cooperative agreement.

Although BOEMRE developed the Hanna Shoal study parameters in 2010, the study will also address several issues raised by the U.S. Geological Survey June 2011 report, An Evaluation of the Science Needs to Inform Decisions on Outer Continental Shelf Energy Development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Alaska.

Since the early 1970s, BOEMRE and its predecessor organizations have funded more than $340 million in studies in Alaska. The Hannah Shoal study is one of approximately 40 ongoing studies the bureau’s Alaska Region is currently coordinating and managing. The bureau’s Environmental Studies Program conducts and oversees world-class, scientific research to inform policy decisions regarding leasing and development of OCS energy and mineral resources.

Original Article

Don’t hold your breath on faster permitting

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It’s become a familiar refrain in the oil patch: the federal government could kick-start the country’s job machine by resuming offshore drilling permits to a pre-Macondo level.

A letter from American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard written last week implores President Obama to remember the Wood Mackenzie study API sponsored that says the oil and gas industry can create one million jobs in the next seven years and 1.4 million additional jobs by 2030.

And another a letter this week from a number of other industry groups points to another industry study that says 230,000 new or retained jobs, more than $44 billion in U.S. GDP and nearly $12 billion in tax and royalty revenues could be generated in 2012 if permitting returned to the same levels as before the Deepwater Horizon Accident.

Many in the industry (and many readers of this blog) assume the slowdown is part of a concerted effort of the White House to punish the oil and gas business. The arguments range from the administration punishing the largely Red State industry for failing to support it to kowtowing to unions and environmental groups.

Not all industry execs aren’t subscribing to the grudge-against-the-oil-industry answer on the permitting, however.

Chevron CEO John Watson also said earlier this week that he felt the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement was “working very hard to process the permit applications they have,” but that the agency needs more staff to step up the pace, especially in light of new regulations imposed since the Gulf spill.

“Whether they have the resources to do it is another matter,” Watson said. “Whether there’s political overtones elsewhere, that’s for others to judge.”

But as far as the hope of getting back to pre-spill permitting levels, the industry shouldn’t hold its  breath.

“There are many more hoops and a lot more verification the government is requiring of itself and of us,” said Gary Luquette, president of Chevron North America Exploration and Production Co., said in an interview with the Chronicle earlier this week. ”This is a much more intensive process now, so we won’t go back to the time lines of the past.”

The biggest reason for the slower pace is that waivers on a number of environmental impact studies that allowed companies to skip them pre-Macondo have been reinstated.

The pace today is certainly better than it was right when the drilling moratorium was lifted, Luquette  said, and even better than it was just last month.

“There’s a need for continuous improvement and they seem to be committed to that,” he said.

BOEMRE chief Michael Bromwich said there’s no doubt the pace of permitting is way off from before Macondo.

“But that’s largely irrelevant because it misses the sea change that’s occurred over the last 15 months, with the more rigorous requirements,” Bromwich said during the same hearings where Watson spoke.

Bromwich also repeated his refrain that there’s no deliberate attempt to stifle the industry.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that anyone in the agency up through and including me has made any effort to slow things down,” Bromwich said. ” I do appreciate [Watson] saying that there is no deliberate slowdown. It’s actually fully consistent with what we’ve been hearing behind closed doors from top company executives for months. And it’s nice that one of the ceos has come out and said so publicly. I don’t think it would hurt the others to say the same thing because I think they realize there’s no agenda to slow things down.”

Original Article

Bromwich at OTC 2011: Feds will regulate offshore contractors

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Posted on May 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm
by Jennifer Dlouhy

The federal government will expand its oversight of coastal drilling to include new regulation of oil field service firms, rig suppliers and other offshore contractors, a top Obama administration official said today.

Michael Bromwich, the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said a broad internal review of current laws concluded that the agency has “broad legal authority over all activities relating to offshore leases, whether it is engaged in by lessees, operators or contractors.”

“We can exercise such authority as we deem appropriate,” Bromwich told the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

Bromwich has floated the idea of expanding the ocean energy bureau’s reach beyond oil and gas companies before — but he had been unsure whether the move would require Congress to go along with the plan. According to the administration’s internal legal review, congressional action isn’t necessary; the agency already has the authority.

Historically, the federal offshore energy agency — previously known as the Minerals Management Service — has focused on leaseholders and operators. Other federal agencies, such as the Coast Guard, separately regulate entities such as drilling rigs and their owners. The benefit of the traditional system, Bromwich acknowledged, is that “it served to preserve clarity and the singular responsibility of the operator.”

But the drilling chief said that he was “convinced that we can fully preserve the principle of holding operators fully responsible — and in most cases solely responsible — without sacrificing the ability to pursue regulatory actions against contractors for serious violations of agency rules and regulations.”

Bromwich insisted the Obama administration would be “careful and measured in extending our regulatory authority to contractors.”

The presidential commission that investigated last year’s oil spill concluded that poor communication among contractors on the Deepwater Horizon rig contributed to the disaster.

Sean Grimsley, the panel’s deputy chief counsel, said that there was an absence of a sense of real responsibility at the Macondo well.

“One of the problems is that there are upwards of 20 plus contractors out here on one of these rigs,” Grimsley said. “What we saw here was that different contractors were making critical decisions, often times without communicating what they had learned to other decision makers.”

Visit FuelFix this week for the latest news from OTC. You can also like our page on Facebook or follow @FuelFixBlog on Twitter. Look for updates from reporters @houstonfowler and @jendlouhyhc under the #OTCHouston hashtag.

Original Article

BOEMRE: Official lashes out at ’sniping’ over oil drilling permit delays

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by: Amanda Carey

Earlier this week, Michael Bromwich, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) lashed out at critics of his agency’s dealings with offshore drilling permits since the BP oil spill last year.

It was during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Bromwich was quite put out. “What was destructive, corrosive and not done in good faith was the sniping from certain public officials and industry trade associations,” he said.

“They claimed, and some continue to assert, that we had imposed a ‘de facto’ moratorium or created a ‘permitorium’ that was blocking the issuance of drilling permits,” Bromwich continued. “Not because the applications had failed to meet all the requirements, which was the fact, but supposedly because we had made politically motivated decisions not to issue them. That could not have been further from the truth, but it was repeated often enough that people who should have known better came to believe it.”

In mid-February, the first Gulf of Mexico drilling company declared bankruptcy. And according to the Texas-based Seahawk Drilling’s CEO Randy Stilley, the decision to file for Chapter 11 came after the company’s revenue stream had “been adversely affected by the dramatic slowdown in the issuing of shallow-water permits in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico following the Macondo well blowout.”

At the behest of a bipartisan group of lawmakers and fed-up industry officials, BOEMRE and the Department of Interior issued the first permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on March 1. Since then, then agency has issued a handful of permits for drilling in the Gulf.

But one industry official isn’t taking Bromwich’s rebuke sitting down. In a statement, Jim Adams, President and CEO of Offshore Marine Service Association, slammed the director, saying “Bromwich should spend less time trying to silence public criticism and more time actually approving drilling permit.”

Adams then asserted that Bromwich should “get his story straight,” noting that Bromwich says permits are not being delayed, but also claims Congress has not provided the sufficient funds the department needs to approve the permits.

“The bureaucratic double-talk would be laughable if thousands of Gulf workers weren’t sitting idle, or if Americans weren’t paying $4 a gallon for gasoline,” said Adams. “There’s a way Bromwich could stop the criticism that seems to bother him so much. He could simply do his job.”

Original Article

Oil-Drilling Permits in U.S. Won’t Be Delayed

April 13, 2011, 7:50 PM EDT

By Katarzyna Klimasinska

The overhaul of U.S. oil-drilling regulations, while “far from complete,” won’t slow the review of applications from producers seeking to resume exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the industry’s regulator said.

“We will implement reforms necessary to make offshore oil and gas production safer,” Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said today in a Washington speech. “The processing of drilling permit applications and proposed drilling plans will not be delayed while these additional reforms are developed.”

The agency has yet to issue a permit for the type of exploration banned by a moratorium on deep-water drilling imposed after the April 20 blowout of the BP Plc well off the Louisiana coast. At stake is development in a region that produces more oil than the U.K., Qatar or Indonesia, and pumped $35.3 billion in crude in 2009.

The Obama administration will add measures regarding blowout preventers, remotely operated vehicles and workplace safety, Bromwich said in his speech.

Bromwich sought to tamp down what he called “significant anxiety” among companies, trade groups and lawmakers concerned that the agency has other requirements “up our sleeve.”

“Barring significant, unanticipated revelations from investigations into the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that remain in process, I do not anticipate further emergency rulemakings,” Bromwich said in his remarks.

The regulator isn’t delaying permits until the second half, Bromwich said, answering a question about whether the agency will wait until the third or fourth quarter. He didn’t elaborate on the timing of issuing permits.

The agency is “thoroughly reviewing” the report of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, which recommended further reorganization of drilling oversight in its findings published Jan. 11, he said.

( Original Article )

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