Industry To USCG On Vessel SEMS: “No Thanks.”


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The Coast Guard is making plans to create some sort of SEMS equivalent for vessels working in offshore oil and gas. The agency put out an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the concept in September and the public comment period just closed last week.   Public and industry comments can be found here and a quick review of them says industry is not in favor of the idea, to say the least.

The Coast Guard received more than sixty comment letters, including letters from a number of associations representing oil and gas companies, workboat owners and drilling companies.    They can be summed up as saying “no thanks” to the idea of a vessel SEMS plan.

Companies and associations representing OSVs and construction vessels made the point that most of their boats are covered by the International Safety Management (ISM) code and are routinely audited.  Additionally,  all boats that work offshore have some sort of bridging agreement with their oil and gas customers that outlines their responsibilities on SEMS.  The International Association of Geophysical Contractors, representing vessels that do surveys, made an interesting point – SEMS deals with offshore facilities and their work is done long before any “facility” is in place , so they don’t fall under the regulations anyway.

The comments of the drilling contractors were notable, especially since government regulators have said from the beginning that MODUs should have some sort of linkage to SEMS.   The letter from the International Association of Drilling Contractors says that the ISM code substantially covers the same ground as SEMS, but then makes the point that, if there is going to be some sort of safety management requirement specific to offshore operations, it should look at the “Safety Case” approach which was developed in the North Sea.

Of special interest were the comments of the oil and gas companies.  Individuals from operator companies have  frequently said in the past that their lives would be easier if everyone offshore had a SEMS plan.  That way everyone would share responsibility for making sure safety and environmental hazards are handled through the same process.   The comment from ConocoPhillips takes that general position, saying a vessel SEMS would help with aligning safety approaches.  

However, the two main groups that represent operators offshore, API and the Offshore Operators Committee come out strongly against a vessel SEMS requirement.   Generally, they appear to take the position that putting a Coast Guard SEMS requirement on vessels and having a BSEE SEMS requirement on operators could confuse things rathe than clear up inconsistencies.   

The Coast Guard will now have to cull through all of the comments and decide how to proceed.   This was the first step of the rulemaking process.  There would need to be a more formal outline of the concept in a  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Final Rule before anything were to take effect.   The initial proposal made it clear that the Coast Guard is very serious about having some sort of SEMS on vessels, but the comments they received back make it clear that industry will fight over this one.


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