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OCR for page 44
LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS The USGS has the authority to regulate oil and gas structures with respect to protection of the environment and the conservation of natural resources on the OCS. However, as oil and gas operations move further from shore and into harsher conditions the protection of human lives will become a greater problem since many platforms may be continuously manned, during periods of both calm and high seas. Today, the USGS's major detailed regulations concerning the safety and integrity of offshore structures are found in OCS Order 8, which refers to 30 CFR 250.11 and .19(a) as authority. Part 250 of the Code of Federal Regulations refers in turn to the legislative mandate in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), 43 USC 1334, as its statutory authority. OCSLA authorizes the Secretary of the Interior, and by delegation, the USGS to: prescribe and amend...rules and regulations... as may be necessary and proper in order to provide for the prevention of waste and con- servation of natural resources of the Outer Continental Shelf and the protection of correlative rights herein... (43 USC 1334) (a) (1). Thus the key language on which the USGS's authority to require verification rests is that of waste, conservation, and correlative rights, not safety. There is a question as to whether the language can be interpreted to cover the protection of human life, as well as of the environment and safety of the structure that the panel considers to be vital. Contrast, for example, the statutory language of the Coast Guard's safety responsibilities for the same structures. The Coast Guard has the authority to make and enforce regu- lations: ...with respect to lights and other warning devices, safety equipment, and other matters relating to the promotion of safety of life and property... (43 USC 1333) (e) (1). 44

OCR for page 44
45 Another possible statutory base lies in section 1333 (a) (1) of the OCSLA, which extends the laws of the United States to all oil and gas artificial islands and fixed structures on the outer continental shelf. The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (30 USC 21etseq.) provides that the USGS, by delega- tion shall have authority: ...to prescribe necessary and proper rules and regulations and to do any and all things necessary to carry out and accomplish the purpose of this chapter... (30 USC 189). The USGS thus has a clear mandate for safety on land that would cover the verification program. The general lan- guage of section 1333 might be interpreted as providing an extension of the mandate oceanward. And, existing regula- tions in 30 CFR Part 221, Oil and Gas Operating Regulations, provide ample scope for safety and environmental concerns of verification. However, following section 189, there is an explicit statement that rules and regulations with respect to tracts on the OCS leased for mining are to be prescribed by the Secretary, citing the familiar section 1334 of OCSLA. The adequacy of the legislative mandate to the USGS with respect to human safety is thus open to question. A practical issue is whether it is likely to be challenged in court. If industry plays a part in the setting of the standards and establishment of the verification procedures, and is reasonably content with the outcome, it is unlikely to challenge USGS authority. Public interest groups might challenge the authority as well as the substance, if they thought the USGS authority was inadequate, and if they believed pressure on Congress might result in a tougher perspective. Until this issue has been clarified, exercise of the USGS current safety oriented activities in response to its "conservation" mandate provides a basis for designing (and probably implementing) the verification scheme.