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Feds begin citing offshore drilling contractors for safety violations

It appears that the feds are cracking down on offshore drilling contractors for the first time since the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This month, five offshore drilling contractors received safety violation notices from the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as part of a new approach to offshore drilling oversight.

Until recently, contracts had not been policed by the feds, who focuses entirely on the compliance of the oil and gas companies. The theory was that it was up to the oil and gas companies to make sure their contractors were following safety regulations. However, after the BP oil spill, the feds decided that contractors should face liability as well.

The "incidents of non compliance" can result in civil penalties of up to $40,000 per incident per day. Ensco Drilling, Nabors Offshore Corp. and three other contractors were all cited in recent weeks and the citations are posted for the public's review on a government website.

Workers' rights advocates and environmentalists say the change is a step in the right direction as the new policy holds more companies accountable for safety breaches that can lead to death and destruction of ecosystems. A spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council said the new strategy "helps the public understand who plays by the rules and who breaks them."

The feds said gas and oil companies leasing offshore drilling tracts will remain the primary focus in the safety checks, but contractors too could have to face accountability for safety violations.

Of course, drilling contractors and oilfield service firms are wary of the new approach. The executive vice president of one drilling contractor said if regulators focus too heavily on minor safety violations among contractors, they could end up ignoring big-picture safety concerns.

Source: Fuel Fix, "Feds rap offshore contractors for safety violations," Jennifer A. Dlouhy, March 18, 2013

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