Safety and Environmental Protection



The Commission made 8 recommendations regarding actions that the federal agencies, industry, and Congress should take to improve safety and environmental protection.  


Industry should establish a private organization to develop, adopt, and enforce standards of excellence to ensure continuous improvement in safety and operational integrity offshore.


The Department of the Interior should update its prescriptive safety and pollution-prevention standards, ensuring that they are developed and selected in consultation with international regulatory peers and that they are at least as rigorous as the leasing terms and regulatory requirements in peer oil-producing nations.  The Department should also develop a proactive, risk-based performance approach specific to individual facilities, operators, and environments, similar to the “safety case” approach in the North Sea.


Congress and the Department of the Interior should create an independent agency within the Department with enforcement authority to oversee all aspects of offshore drilling safety, as well as the structural and operational integrity of all offshore energy production facilities, including both oil and gas production and renewable energy production.  The director of the new agency should be appointed by the President for a five-to-six year term and be confirmed by the Senate.


Congress and the Department of the Interior should create a Leasing and Environmental Science Office within the Department charged with fostering environmentally responsible and efficient development of the Outer Continental Shelf.  To ensure that environmental concerns receive full consideration, the environmental division of this office should be led by a Chief Scientist, who would conduct all environmental reviews for offshore energy development.


The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Department of the Interior should revise and strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) policies, practices, and procedures to improve the level of environmental analysis, transparency, and consistency at all stages of the Outer Continental Shelf planning, leasing, exploration, and development process.  The Department of the Interior should reduce the size of lease sales so their geographic scope allows for a meaningful analysis of potential impacts and identification of areas of ecological significance.


Congress should amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to extend the 30-day deadline for approving exploration plans to 60 days.  The Department of the Interior should not consider such plans officially “submitted” until all of the required content, necessary environmental reviews, and other analyses are complete and adequate to provide a sound basis for decision-making.


Congress should amend OCSLA to provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with a formal consultative role during the development of five-year lease-plans and lease-sales.  The Department of the Interior should be required to adopt NOAA’s recommendations unless the Department determines that doing so would be inconsistent with important national policy interests.


The Department of Energy, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other interested agencies should establish a joint research program to systematically collect critical scientific data, fill research gaps, and provide comprehensive, ecosystem-based scientific reviews of Outer Continental Shelf areas that are currently, or will likely be, open for energy development.  The new Environmental Science Office within the Department of the Interior along with NOAA should develop environmental monitoring protocols to be implemented by oil and gas companies at lease sites once exploration, development, and production activities begin.