Nearly a year ago, President Obama challenged several agencies to come up with new ways to improve hazardous chemical safety and security. Now those proposals are at the White House under review. The task force, formed by Executive Order (EO) 13650 – Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security, sent its report to the Administration in May, but it was only released to the public this month.
The headline for oil and gas is that it would apply the same requirements to have Process Safety Management Plans (PSM) that chemical plants and refineries now have to comply with. For oil and gas operators or contractors who work offshore, PSM is very similar to the offshore Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) rules. Operators must perform hazard analyses and control those hazards through a number of approaches, including safety policies, procedures, training and contractor oversight.
The recommendations also say EPA would develop guidance on unauthorized public access to oil and gas storage facilities, a recurring problem that has resulted in a number of facilities over the years. It doesn’t say whether EPA’s guidance will be to educate the public to stay away or push operators to make their facilities more secure.
So now what? The White House will decide what recommendations to approve and then start the necessary rulemaking processes. Those will take some time, probably longer than the current administration will be in office, so the chances of PSM in the oilfield could depend on the politics of the next administration and whether there is another big industrial accident in the meantime.
Beyond that, the process itself may determine the outcome. Sometimes agencies come out with proposals that push for the sun, the moon and everything in between. The tackle so many perceived problems and there is so much opposition from so many different groups that the whole initiative falls apart.
On the other hand, when a proposal is this large and touches on so many areas, the opposition from one group, such as oil and gas, may get lost in the background. The proposal goes through because, once the administration is committed to making it happen, it pushes through every part of it. As the saying goes, “in for a penny, in for a pound.”
So it is hard to say whether oil and gas will be included in the end. Of course the bests defense against new regulation may be to prove you don’t need them by not having any serious accidents.