Wednesday, November 24, 2010

S 3964 Introduced

Last week Sen. Casey (D, PA) introduced S 3964, the Faster Action Safety Team Emergency Response Act of 2010, that is supposed to “provide for an expedited response to emergencies related to oil or gas production or storage”.

Regulations Required

This legislation would provide the Secretary of Labor, through OSHA, with the authority to establish regulations providing for emergency response requirements for on-shore oil and/or gas drilling operations. The regulations would require operators to have a person on-site at all times that is familiar with emergency response requirements and to have a certified “well response team” available to respond to emergencies at the well {§3(b)(3)(A)}.

Another important component of this bill is that it codifies emergency notification requirements. It specifies time limits for notifying local first responders, OSHA, State environmental agency, and the National Response Center {§3(b)(4)}. The time limits start with the ‘commencement of an emergency situation’, a term that is not defined in the bill.

Interestingly there is no mention of a time limit for notifying the ‘well response team’, nor is there any mention of a response time requirement for such a team. The wording is so vague as to allow for the establishment of a single industry ‘well response team’ to be located in say, Maine, to respond to all on-shore emergency situations in the United States.

Finally the regulations required by this legislation would require each operator provide annual training to local first responders who might be called upon to respond to emergency situations at the well head. The training would cover “the hazards of a well and proper emergency response techniques” {§3(b)(5)}.

Where is FEMA?

I understand that OSHA is the federal agency tasked with looking after employee safety. Much of the wording of this regulation, however, focuses not so much on employee safety as it does emergency response, which is more properly covered by FEMA. The provision requiring someone on site with an understanding of emergency response procedures would certainly fall under the OSHA mandate, as would training requirements for industry emergency response teams. Training for public first responders is not covered by OSHA (in fact State and local government agencies are exempt from OSHA training requirements, which, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a safety travesty).

Lame Legislation

I am not certain why legislation like this is introduced in a lame duck session of Congress. There is little or no chance that this legislation will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, much less the Senate as a whole. There is certainly a lot of controversy in Pennsylvania about the operations of gas production in that State, but it is unlikely that this late bill will have any effect on resolving that controversy. Of course this may be a purely political bill that Sen. Casey will point to in a future election to show his concern about drilling safety.

It will be interesting to see how early in the 112th Congress this bill is re-introduced.

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