“One Shelf, One Standard”: Coast Guard Musings On The Status And Future Of The Outer Continental Shelf

by Baker Donelson

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) Marine Safety and Security Council issued the winter issue of its quarterly magazine Proceedings: Journal of Safety and Security at Sea in February, providing insights to the long and short-term outlook regarding the regulatory environment on the United States Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). In particular, the USCG noted the rapid technological advances that have advanced OCS capabilities into deeper and deeper offshore waters, outstripping the scope and content of existing regulations. This issue of the Proceedings journal is an informative read for anyone with operations on the OCS, but a few of the more prominent regulatory issues and/or new regulatory initiatives are highlighted below:

  •  the USCG, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and various class societies are considering changes to existing regulations to prolong the life cycle of tension leg platform (TLP) mooring systems utilizing new technologies.
  •  the newly established USCG National Center of Offshore Expertise (NCOE) is evaluating USCG licensing standards to determine proper requirements for licensing of “ballast control officer,” “barge supervisor,” and “offshore installation manager.”
  • the USCG and BSEE continue to develop synergies in terms of their dual and sometimes overlapping spheres of regulatory authority on the OCS. Specifically noted areas of focus in this regard include:

o       mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) and fixed facility oversight and information exchange;

o       in the next few years, updating and revalidation of legacy USCG/BSEE (formerly Mineral Management Services) agreements

o       development of a new Memorandum of Understanding regarding inspection responsibilities for offshore vessels that service and/or construct renewable offshore energy projects

  •  the USCG is working to amend its coastal state regulations (33 CFR Subchapter N) to ensure that all MODUs, floating facilities, and vessels – both foreign flagged and US-flagged – operating on the OCS are held to the same standards. These new regulations will “incorporate industry consensus and international standards, which will set the framework to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology employed on the OCS.”
  •   the USCG is considering publishing new rules to address dynamic positioning (DP) standards (pursuant to its flag state authority under Title 46), and has also initiated non-regulatory efforts to foster DP safety and gather information for a potential rule in the future. These non-regulatory efforts include industry outreach, advanced education for USCG officers in fields pertinent to DP technologies. Additionally, the USCG has issued a policy to facilitate voluntary DP incident reporting to identify issues for future regulation.
  • In addition to these USCG DP initiatives, the United States has proposed to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that the international DP Standard (MSC 645) be revised in the wake of the Macondo blowout in 2010. In this regard, however, the USCG noted that the IMO’s current and ongoing efforts to revise the international offshore supply vessel (OSV) codes may be a threat to the global OSV fleet, insofar as the IMO is not as experienced with the unique capabilities and operations of OSVs, given its more traditional role in regulating cargo and tank ships.
  •  Dove-tailing off of its discussion of the current OSV construction boom (and the potential for a glut in the market going forward), the USCG notes – albeit in vague terms – that its long-awaited (and consistently delayed) final rules for inspection and certification of large OSVs over 6,000 tons will be published sometime “in the near term.”

The full winter issue of Proceedings, which includes many more topics and detail, can be viewed at http://uscgproceedings.epubxp.com/i/264352.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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