The United States holds a large amount of untapped wind energy, both land-based and offshore. The strongest and most consistent winds are either offshore or in rural areas, far from population centers that could benefit from the electricity produced. As of December 31, 2012, the United States had more than 60,000 megawatts of installed wind capacity—second only to China—all of it from land-based wind farms. Offshore wind development would supply energy to nearby population centers, especially on the East Coast. Yet the United States has no offshore turbines installed; many European nations have developed dozens of offshore wind farms over the past 15 years.
Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which authorized the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to regulate renewable energy sources on the outer continental shelf (OCS). Initially, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) had responsibility for essential regulations and for implementing this new authority, in addition to regulating oil and gas development. In April 2010, MMS was reorganized (see Chapter 3), and previously coexisting functions were separated: resource development and energy management are now administered by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and health, safety, and environmental enforcement for offshore oil and gas is now administered by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The regulation of renewable energy is an exception to this organizational structure. DOI issued its final regulations in 30 CFR 585, which gave BOEM authority to regulate all renewable energy development activities on the OCS. The agency still needed to provide guidance in many areas of offshore wind development, including ensuring the health and safety of offshore wind workers.
In August 2011, DOI requested that the Marine Board of the National Research Council assess its approach for regulating the health and safety of wind farm workers on the OCS. The committee’s three main tasks were as follows:
• Identify unique risks to worker health and safety on wind farms, as compared with oil and gas operations on the OCS;
• Identify any gaps or overlaps in jurisdictional authority; and
• Evaluate the adequacy of existing regulations and recommend enhancements to regulations for worker health and safety on OCS wind farms.
Although the federal government has regulated the production of offshore oil and gas for decades, it has no experience with offshore wind farms. Land-based and offshore wind development share many of the same tasks and hazards; in fact, once a technician is inside a wind turbine, most tasks are exactly the same. However, the challenge of working on and from vessels and in and over the water with massive offshore wind turbine equipment introduces additional hazards and different risks (see Chapters 2 and 4). The oil and gas and wind industries share most of these offshore hazards, but overall, the risk associated with oil and gas hazards is greater than that associated with offshore wind. In this context, workplace “risk” is viewed as the product of the probability and the consequence of a hazardous event. The oil and gas industry works with a more volatile product, so the risk of explosion or fire on offshore platforms is greater than on offshore wind turbines.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the state programs, operating with OSHA oversight, normally have jurisdiction over private-sector worker health and safety regulations in the United States, including those applicable to the OCS. However, as established by Section 4(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, BOEM’s intention to enforce worker health and safety regulations for wind energy by requiring the lessee to submit a description of a safety management system (SMS) has preempted OSHA from enforcing its regulations on the OCS, while the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has declared itself a cooperating agency for renewable energy activities. OSHA does regulate health and safety for land-based wind farms and has indicated that it will regulate offshore wind farms in state waters within
3 nautical miles and on the Great Lakes. BOEM will regulate worker health and safety for offshore wind farms on the OCS, although during committee deliberations, the sponsor reported that BSEE is expected to obtain authority to conduct health and safety compliance inspections for offshore renewable energy facilities by 2014. BOEM has jurisdiction, but its SMS requirements are unclear and incomplete. While the committee is not in a position to recommend a model SMS standard or guideline, it believes that a well-developed SMS, supplemented by details governing the control of specific hazards, is an important mechanism that allows an organization to improve its health and safety performance continually.
The committee has also examined the adequacy of DOI regulations and offers recommendations for enhancing them. The committee agrees that DOI should separate the energy management and health and safety compliance functions between BOEM and BSEE, as it has for offshore oil and gas. To enhance the SMS requirement for offshore wind, BOEM, with the help of stakeholders, should undertake rulemaking and adopt a full SMS rule at a level of detail that includes the baseline elements identified in Chapter 5 of this report or at a level comparable with that of the safety and environmental management system (SEMS) for the oil and gas industry. Moreover, BOEM should investigate the appropriateness of adapting SEMS for offshore wind on the basis of risk and of applying many of the recommendations from a recent 2012 Marine Board study (see Chapter 5). Any enhanced SMS rule should require the use of human factors engineering elements in the design process and should encompass all activities that the lessee and its contractors undertake. In addition, an enhanced SMS and a positive safety culture are closely linked: the SMS must consider all possible safety factors, while the safety culture will shape how an SMS is expressed within an organization.
In collaboration with other regulatory agencies and industry stakeholders, BOEM should lead development and implementation of a comprehensive health and safety program for workers on offshore wind farms. Through new or updated memoranda of understanding with OSHA and USCG, BOEM should clearly define roles and responsibilities and indicate which standards could apply for all phases of wind
farm development regardless of jurisdiction. With the help of stakeholders, BOEM should support the development of guidelines and recommended practices that could be used as guidance documents or adopted by reference. An enhanced SMS is an effective approach that ensures worker health and safety on offshore wind farms. It places the responsibility for controlling hazards on industry yet allows for technological changes and continued industry development.