- Offshore

Recap of Center for Offshore Safety’s session with Coast Guard Eighth District Commander

Coast Guard Eighth District Commander Rear Adm. Paul Thomas joined Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Scott Angelle during this year’s Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, May 6-9. The session, moderated by Charlie Williams with Center for Offshore Safety (COS), was part of COS’s Senior Regulatory Leadership Perspective series.

(Editor’s note: read Director Angelle’s remarks on BSEE’s online newsroom.)

To begin, Thomas summarized the latest on Coast Guard offshore regulations, focusing on the work recently conducted with the National Offshore Safety Advisory Committee (NOSAC). Thomas thanked NOSAC members for their accomplishments, particularly the regulatory work associated with the President’s Executive Order 13771, which called for executive agencies to identify ways to reduce regulatory burden on individuals and businesses. NOSAC assisted the Coast Guard with identifying regulations that no longer advance the OCS industry or that are no longer applicable. As a result, the Coast Guard withdrew the proposed rule entitled, “Outer Continental Shelf Activities.”

Thomas also discussed recent court decisions that define what is considered an OCS ‘vessel,’ and what those decisions mean to certain Eighth District policy letters governing floating offshore installations.

“We’re working hard with NOSAC now to figure out what to do with floating offshore installations, and whether we should continue issuing Certificates of Inspection or establishing manning requirements for them,” Thomas said. “BSEE has a lot of authorities on these installations and we are, and will continue, working with them to understand how to leverage their authorities. Regardless, the Coast Guard will continue to need NOSAC’s support.” 

Thomas then turned his remarks to the Coast Guard’s strong partnership with BSEE both at the national level and at the regional level in the Gulf of Mexico.  

“We are making progress on being more effective and efficient, while also reducing redundancies in the work that we do and looking at redundancies in our regulations,” Thomas said. He highlighted the increasing joint operations, transparency, and information sharing between the two agencies and provided some examples of BSEE inspectors finding areas of concern that have Coast Guard oversight, and sharing those with the Coast Guard to take action and preempt potential tragedies offshore.

Thomas mentioned the Coast Guard’s renewed focus on fixed platforms, an area where the Coast Guard leverages BSEE to carry out its authorities, primarily because BSEE has more workforce capacity in that regard.

“Our people are our most important asset, and we are challenged, like industry, to recruit, train, and retain the best work force, particularly for this work on the Outer Continental Shelf,” Thomas said.

Thomas emphasized the OCS National Center of Expertise (NCOE) for the OCS and the value the staff there brings as a resource for both Coast Guard inspectors and industry. Thomas said the OCS NCOE helps the Coast Guard keep pace with industry so the Coast Guard can adjust training and tactics for offshore work and respond to the new technology that industry brings to the table.

Thomas also provided an update on the “One OCMI” initiative, which is an effort to organize the Coast Guard’s OCMI resources more effectively.

“It [One OCMI] continues to be a very effective construct and I’m pleased we made the decision to adopt it,” Thomas said.  “Capt. Russ Holmes has been working hard to consolidate that workforce in just a few locations, so that it’s easier to manage and more efficient.  And, he’s been pushing the workforce to not only go out to do inspections and find deficiencies, but to also focus on critical systems and ask the question about safety management systems; and in particular, how the system is going to be adjusted, in order to make sure these [deficiencies] aren’t repeated.”

Thomas briefly discussed the need to draft new Subchapter N regulations for the OCS that address the development of wind energy. He said the Coast Guard, BSEE, and BOEM are working together to define their respective authorities and find the right answer to incorporate wind energy in the OCS and not jeopardize other U.S. offshore interests.

To close his remarks, Thomas stressed that the Coast Guard is working hard to give its offshore inspectors the tools they need that will allow them to tap into a vessel’s historical data during an inspection. This capability will allow inspectors to compare current and past system diagnostics, freeing them to focus their efforts on the highest risk systems.

During a short Q&A session with attendees, Thomas was asked to identify technologies that may help reduce paperwork and allow for more inspections in the field, and how each agency plans to leverage those technologies.  

“Our strategy in the Coast Guard, as it always is, is to leverage the work industry is doing, and there is no better crucible for innovation across the board than a strong business case,” Thomas said. “Regulation has some role in facilitating innovation but it is often too little too late. Our strategy is to watch what you are doing with big data, and that is one reason I am here today. To learn what you are doing with artificial intelligence, to learn what you are doing with digitalization, and to incorporate those tools into our tool kit so that they are compatible with yours and can increase transparency between us and you, and between us and BSEE.”

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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