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BSEE continues to ‘fulfill its mission’ despite challenges of COVID-19 pandemic: DOI OIG

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Washington — The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has “continued to fulfill its mission” during the COVID-19 pandemic by performing safety and environmental inspections for offshore oil and gas operations, the Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General concludes in a report issued Sept. 21.

DOI OIG personnel analyzed BSEE guidance intended to mitigate inspector exposure to the coronavirus while contacting regional and district officials and individual inspectors about its implementation. Findings show that BSEE:

  • Developed, communicated and updated COVID-19 guidance for all personnel involved with offshore inspections.
  • Continued to complete required inspections.
  • Adapted practices and remotely witnessed operators’ blowout preventer tests by accessing the operators’ software systems.

According to DOI OIG, BSEE conducted 3,581 inspections from March 1 to June 10 across its three regions. Although the onset of the pandemic initially slowed inspections in early March, none was “delayed beyond the annual statutory requirement, and the regions expect to complete their inspections as planned.”

To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, BSEE developed a tiered level of screening for inspectors and aircraft pilots traveling to offshore facilities. The agency provided personal protective equipment to inspectors, while certain operators requested inspectors quarantine seven to 14 days before conducting an inspection.

Transparent and timely communication has guided BSEE’s efforts, DOI OIG found. The report details one instance in which an operator informed BSEE that an employee had a confirmed case of COVID-19. Within an hour, the agency identified and notified the two inspectors who were potentially exposed. The inspectors underwent COVID-19 testing and were quarantined until their test results came back negative.

Additionally, one inspection was called off when an operator informed BSEE of a confirmed case of COVID-19 at an offshore facility as inspectors were en route to the site. BSEE contacted the pilot and instructed the traveling party to return to shore.

The report notes that BSEE modified the protocol of its required annual onsite inspection of operator blowout preventers, which use various techniques to keep hydrocarbons from advancing through drill pipes and into surface operations, an agency-funded study states. Because such inspections typically require multiple days – potentially increasing inspectors’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 – BSEE elected to perform them remotely by accessing operators’ software testing systems and observing data in real time.

DOI OIG found that a majority of operators lack the capability to remotely display equipment in real time and recommended BSEE create guidance for inspectors who watch tests remotely. The report notes that agency officials informed OIG in July that such guidance is in development.

BSEE Director Scott Angelle expressed optimism over the report’s findings and the agency’s operation during the pandemic in a Sept. 23 press release.

“I want to thank our BSEE teammates for their diligence in maintaining both production and worker safety, notwithstanding the challenges of COVID-19,” Angelle said.

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