Friday, January 14, 2011

BP Spill Commission Recommends Self-Regulator for Oil Industry Based on Nuclear Model

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has released its final report. For those of you with enough time and the inclination to delve into reports, there’s an interesting nuclear angle to this story

Borrowing an idea from the nuclear power Pres. Obama Inspects the Damageindustry, the oil-spill commission backs the creation of an industry-run organization modeled on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations that was created after the Three-Mile Island disaster. That organization helps establish best practices and technology for reactors.

Well, I have to admit, my first reaction when I hear the words “self-regulating industry body” are not always warm and fuzzy. But with INPO, the nuclear industry has shown how it can work as a supplement to existing government regulation. As the report notes:

Nor is there anything casual about an INPO inspection. It is thorough and careful, extending for five to six weeks: two weeks of preparation and analysis of pre-delivered data from the site, two weeks on the site, a week of internal review and report writing by functional and cross-functional sub-teams, and perhaps another week reviewing with the INPO president.

Of course, there’s nothing written in stone here, and no official agreement that the oil industry will create an INPO-like body. However, that’s what one of the co-chairs, former Sen. Bob Graham, would like to see:

Our commission is urging the offshore oil and gas industry to follow in the path of other high-risk industries such as nuclear power and chemical, which have established industry organizations to assure the highest standards of safety and complement effective governmental regulation. Each of these organizations was established in the wake of a disaster — Three Mile Island and Bhopal. It is an open question as to whether the offshore industry leaders will see Deepwater Horizon as a similar mandate and opportunity to act.

Time will tell. However, there was an interesting tidbit in a press release from the American Petroleum Institute in response to the commission’s report:

API has begun the process of creating an industry safety program for deepwater operations that will build on API RP 75 [API’s “safety and environmental management standard” for offshore operations] and help to further drive a culture of excellence throughout the offshore industry. That program will draw from the best practices in the nuclear and chemical industries and use independent, third-party auditing to measure performance.

This much is certain: INPO has been an effective tool in complementing NRC regulation and enhancing the industry’s safety culture. It’s nice to see them get recognition for a job well done in the form of a recommendation to use their organization as model for enhancing safety in the energy industry.  

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