Saturday, September 4, 2010

Oil platform owner opposed safety rule

WASHINGTON — The company whose Gulf of Mexico oil platform erupted in flames this week cited the industry's "excellent safety record" when it opposed a proposed federal rule last year that would require offshore oil and gas operators to have safety systems aimed at reducing workers' mistakes.
The government still hasn't put the safety rule in place despite Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's recommendation months ago that it be adopted. Mariner Energy Inc. and others in the industry, including BP, opposed it when it was proposed last year.

The rule would require operators to develop safety and environmental management systems that federal regulators said could have prevented at least some of the 33 major accidents they studied. A former senior U.S. regulator — Elizabeth Birnbaum, who lost her job after the BP oil spill — previously told Congress that the safety rule would eliminate two-thirds of all offshore accidents.

It was not immediately clear whether these safety systems could have prevented the fire in the Gulf, which is still under investigation.

In a Sept. 10, 2009, letter to government regulators, Mariner said the proposal was a "major, paperwork-intensive, rulemaking that will significantly impact our business, both operationally and financially," with little or no safety benefit.

The company's environmental and safety director, Blaine E. Dinger, cited the offshore industry's "excellent safety record" and said the rule was not justified. The National Ocean Industries Association, an industry trade group, used nearly identical language in its own letter Sept. 23 of last year.

Dinger said Friday that the fire hasn't changed his mind.

"What went on with Mariner or what went on with BP, even with a robust (safety) program, possibly could have still happened," he said in a brief telephone interview.

Mariner cited before

Federal authorities have cited Mariner Energy and related entities for 10 accidents in the Gulf over four years, including platform fires, pollution spills and a blowout, according to federal records.

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