BSEE Reports Concerns Over Bolt and Connector Failures

August 29, 2016

In February, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued a Safety Alert warning of connector and bolt failures that is considered to be of “great concern” due to “their frequency and the potential for a catastrophic event.” In a July blog post, BSEE’s Director referred to this simply as the “bolt problem,” although the post made clear that the issue is anything but simple.

The current state of the bolt problem first came to light a few months before the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 (although the issue first surfaced in 2003). Since January 2010, BSEE has identified several risks relating to faulty bolts and connectors. Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry has been slow to respond. “We know that disaster can occur,” BSEE’s director stated, “[and] we have a real chance to put the post-Deepwater Horizon reform mentality into practice by addressing the bolt issue.” While this sounds good, for offshore workers to be protected, industry leaders will need to get on board.

BSEE’s Measures to Address Offshore Bolt and Connector Failures

To force the oil and gas industry to recognize the bolt issue and begin taking proactive measures to protect offshore workers from the catastrophic dangers of deep-sea bolt and connector failures, BSEE’s Director has implemented a series of reforms. According to its website, BSEE is currently:

  • Enforcing a revised reporting requirement that includes mandatory reporting of bolt failures in order to identify the scope of the problem
  • Working with regulators in the United States and abroad to identify the causes and frequency of bolt failures
  • Working with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to address the bolt problem within the oil and gas industry
  • Maintaining a system that allows offshore workers and contractors to directly report equipment failures to BSEE
  • Meeting with API, industry leaders, and bolt manufacturers to identify ways to improve bolt and connector safety

While these are all steps in the right direction, as you can see, efforts to address the bolt problem remain in their infancy. Until BSEE is able to shift its efforts from assessing the problem and identifying possible solutions to compelling oil and gas companies to implement effective solutions offshore, workers will remain at risk. As with so many safety concerns in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore workers are currently powerless to do much of anything to protect themselves against the “bolt problem” turning into a bolt tragedy.

In closing, BSEE’s Director acknowledges that “[i]t will take some time before the bolt problem is solved.” We can only hope that the solution comes soon enough.

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