An experienced oil and gas lawyer understands how politics influences the rules and regulations placed upon those working in the energy industry. Unfortunately, that political influence means that decisions about how the industry is regulated are often not guided by common sense, logic, and fair-minded decision-making. Instead, oil and gas regulations are frequently spurred by knee-jerk, reactionary administrators who are more concerned with appeasing loud public voices than making choices that are necessary and reasonable in light of all the information.
One is hard pressed to turn on a television news channel or flip open a newspaper without hearing or reading some story vilifying oil and gas companies and calling for new measures to control their activities. A cruel caricature is often painted of those who work in the energy industry which ignores the fact that these individuals are regular citizens working each day in a business that remains vital to national productivity. The unflattering and inaccurate public portrayal of the industry often causes appointed bureaucrats to impose new regulation after new regulation on these businesses. To make matter worse, those making these regulatory decisions are rarely knowledgeable about the day-to-day activities of those working in this field, and they usually ignore the effect that their arbitrary rules have on the business.For example, the US Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) announced a spate of new workplace regulations recently for all offshore oil and gas producers. As reported last week in the Oil and Gas Journal, these new regulations will require certain actions be performed on these rigs in an apparent effort to improve workplace safety. These include guidelines for reporting unsafe work conditions, stop-work action procedures, safety audit requirements, and a variety of other mandates. While everyone can agree that safety should always be prioritized, heaping new requirements on the industry is rarely the best way to achieve that goal.
If history is any indication, these new rules from federal regulators will likely do little to address the actual safety goals and instead only stifle each company’s ability to respond on its own to the unique safety challenges that it faces on the ground. As those working in the field of oil and gas law know, when push comes to shove it almost always makes more sense for those actually working in these environments to decide the ideal safety protocols instead of regulations being handed down on high from those walking the halls in Washington D.C.
When announcing the new regulations, BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich also took the time to attack those who have asked questions about the bureau’s slow-walking of permits. He cited the total number of overtime hours worked by employees in his office as proof that the agency was working as quickly as possible to evaluate plans. Of course, the fact that employees are logging a certain number of hours in no way exonerates the bureau from serious concerns that it is unfairly managing the application process. There remain persistent criticisms by legitimate sources that BOEMRE is sitting on permits.
After decades of experience as a Texas oil and gas lawyer helping owners and lessors on a variety of issues, I have come to appreciate the hard work conducted day in and day out by those running these industries. It is disappointing to learn of new regulations that are continually thrown upon these businesses, and are usually drafted by those who have little understanding of how the industry actually operates. In the end, these regulations are likely to do more harm than good.
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