In the midst of reports of new oil and gas discoveries, mergers or acquisitions, and changes in company leadership, it is not uncommon to hear grumblings from some in the industry about the perceived lack of cooperation with the current administration or concern about regulatory uncertainties.
By the nature of my work, I typically hear more from one side than the other. And it is understandable that the regulatory process can sometimes feel burdensome, although few can legitimately argue against its need, considering safety is of utmost importance to the industry.
But the words coming from a government official speaking at OTC 2013 were refreshing. Sally Jewell, the recently appointed secretary of the US Department of the Interior, said she met with some industry CEOs at the conference May 9. Her main message to the executives, she said, was that everyone needed to work together and not be at odds with each other.
“We want to listen to the needs of industry. We want to bring in the best available science. We want to work with academia. We don’t want to be in the way of development, but we have a job to do, which is to protect the assets of the American people,” Jewell said during a press conference. “I did poke them a little bit about not throwing the regulators under the bus or blaming us when there is actually shared responsibility, perhaps, when something doesn’t move forward.”
I couldn’t agree more with the fact that there is shared responsibility – responsibility on the part of the government not to make regulations burdensome but to understand the inner workings of the industry so it can provide the proper checks. Likewise, industry also has a job to do in complying with regulations and doing whatever it can to improve the process. Both sides can do so without losing sight of their overall missions or goals, which – of course – vary. Herein, the challenge lies.
As a former petroleum engineer who once worked for Mobil Oil, Jewell knows about life in the oil patch. She knows about working in permafrost and knows about the need for insulation when running hot oil through cold pipes. She knows her way around a rig. And, she can see that although the equipment has gotten bigger and more sophisticated, when it comes down to it, the “principles are still the same.”
Jewell could be just what the industry needs to continue strengthening the relationship between the government and industry. She wants agencies regulating the industry to “do the best job that we can so that we are staying up on the latest technology and not making regulations burdensome but making regulations align with what is expected of us as the overseer of these assets that are owned by the American people,” she said.
The importance of having a trusting relationship and having face-to-face contact, even going “off the record,” were part of the conversation, Jewell said, before turning to the response of executives in the meeting. “I have not sensed from any of the executives that I met with a reluctance to embrace regulation. What they want and what we are committed to providing is regulatory certainty, predictability, and consistency, recognizing that different circumstances warrant different ways of behaving.”
Since the Deepwater Horizon accident, I have seen increased communication and collaboration between the two. Others have, too, as associations like the American Petroleum Institute and the Center for Offshore Safety create best practices and safety policies that are picked up by agencies such as the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said, “I think the regulators have a much better understanding of what is expected, and industry has a much better understanding of what the federal regulators are looking for. This is being done through increased communication.”
“I cannot underline the importance of the ability for industry and the regulators to communicate,” Luthi said during a breakfast session at OTC 2013. “The federal agency can only regulate the industry well if it understands that industry well.”
It appears that the relationship has improved, despite occasional quips or complaints some may hear. Tragedy, as it does in many situations, has brought the industry and the government closer together – like it or not. And this, I believe, will make both stronger and better.
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.