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Bill would require rescue boats within three nautical miles of active offshore oil, gas rigs

By Richard Thompson

Times Picayune

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives today is scheduled to consider legislation that would require standby rescue vessels within three nautical miles of active offshore oil and gas rigs.

If enacted, the measure would be the first significant safety measure approved by Congress since the 2010 BP oil spill.

It’s sponsored by Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, who has been among the most vocal critics of post-spill regulations imposed by the Obama administration. His legislation has set off a battle between two of the state’s most influential industries and biggest campaign contributors.

The oil and gas industry opposes the provision as too expensive and unnecessary, while maritime companies, which stand to gain lucrative new business, are supportive.

“It puts members from Louisiana in a real pickle because two of the most important industry groups for our state are on opposing sides, ” said an aide to one Louisiana member who asked not to be identified because the issue is sensitive.

Landry, a freshman Republican who has railed against government regulation, said his proposal represents a common-sense approach to a critical problem — how to ensure the safety of rig workers in a major accident.

After the blowout of BP’s Deepwater Horizon in April 2011, which killed 11 workers, 115 others were rescued mainly because a supply boat, the Damon Bankston, was nearby, according to a Coast Guard report that recommended new requirements for standby vessels.

Had workers on the rig not taken a dinner break, Landry said, it’s likely the boat would have been on its way back to shore, and many more on the Deepwater Horizon would have perished, Landry said.

“You know me, I’m not a big regulatory type of guy, ” Landry said. “I looked at how we could codify safety standards to protect the workers with the minimum impact on the industry.”

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, said the Landry provision, inserted into a Coast Guard reauthorization bill, would significantly increase costs.

“Companies already enforce a myriad of regulations that address personnel safety for offshore operations, ” Briggs said. “Having companies provide standby vessels will add a significant cost burden and have an adverse effect on the slow recovery of offshore drilling. Adequate response mechanisms are already in place and the addition of standby vessels is a redundant measure.”

He said Coast Guard helicopter search-and-rescue teams are already capable of finding and recovering “personnel that have been lost at sea.”

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, has readied an amendment that would strip Landry’s language from the Coast Guard bill, and instead replace it with a proposal for a study on whether standby vessels are needed. That angered Landry, who contends he has minimized the impact on the oil and gas industry by giving companies a year to implement the new standards and by allowing standby vessels to serve more than one rig at a time.

“Here’s the problem with Congress, ” Landry said. “Every time we have a problem no one has the gall to deal with it. Instead, they want to punt and do a study.”

Under Landry’s legislation, rig operators would be required to keep a standby vessel no more than three miles from offshore installations while performing, drilling, plugging, abandonment or work-over operations. The vessel could be up to 12 nautical miles away while other less dangerous operations are being performed.

The oil and gas and maritime industries, which are battling over Landry’s bill, are major donors to Louisiana members of Congress.

For example, Landry has received $47,200 from sea transport company interests for his 2012 re-election campaign and $18,000 from oil and gas representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, received $60,400 from donors affiliated with oil and gas companies, and $35,700 from those associated with sea transportation companies, while Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, received $7,500 from sea transport representatives.

Original Article

Posted in: Gulf of Mexico

About the Author:

The Louisiana Oil & Gas Association (known before 2006 as LIOGA) was organized in 1992 to represent the Independent and service sectors of the oil and gas industry in Louisiana; this representation includes exploration, production and oilfield services. Our primary goal is to provide our industry with a working environment that will enhance the industry. LOGA services its membership by creating incentives for Louisiana’s oil & gas industry, warding off tax increases, changing existing burdensome regulations, and educating the public and government of the importance of the oil and gas industry in the state of Louisiana.

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