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The U.S. Department of the Interior lacks a robust oversight process to monitor and ensure the safety and integrity of some 8,600 miles of active offshore oil and gas pipelines located on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report made public on Monday.
According to GAO, the Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) needs to improve the process of monitoring the operations and safety of the pipelines and their eventual decommissioning.
"Pipelines can contain oil or gas if not properly cleaned in decommissioning. But the Bureau doesn't ensure that standards, like cleaning and burial, are met. It also doesn't monitor pipeline condition or movement from currents over time," the report from GAO found.
BSEE does not generally conduct or require any subsea inspections of active pipelines and relies on surface observations once a month, as well as on pressure sensors to detect leaks.
"However, officials told us that these methods and technologies are not always reliable for detecting ruptures," GAO's report reads.
"According to BSEE, the bureau's regulations are outdated and do not address how pipelines should be inspected, the complexities of deep water pipeline operations, and changes in technological standards," the report further notes.
Moreover, BSEE lacks a robust process to ensure that decommissioned pipelines do not pose environmental and safety risks during and after decommissioning, GAO added. BSEE does not thoroughly account for such risks while reviewing decommissioning applications. This has contributed to BSEE and its predecessors authorizing industry to leave over 97 percent (about 18,000 miles) of all decommissioned pipeline mileage on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor since the 1960s.
The GAO recommends that BSEE implement updated pipeline regulations to address those long-standing limitations in its ability to ensure pipeline integrity and address safety and environmental risks associated with pipeline decommissioning. The Interior agreed with this recommendation, the GAO said in the report.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com