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offshore drilling: Foreign offshore drilling contractors lobby against new safety rules


Foreign offshore oil drilling contractors operating in Indian waters are lobbying for reversing the latest maritime rules that mandate higher safety conditions for offshore vessels and accommodation barges, citing technical constraints and cost involved.

The rules, notified by the Directorate General of Shipping in October 2022, mandate mobile offshore drilling units, or MODUs, certified under the 1979 MODU code to upgrade to 1989 or 2009 code by October 2024.

“Any mobile offshore drilling unit participating in a tender after the issuance of this order (India or foreign) shall comply with the requirements of MODU code 1989 or 2009, depending on the year of construction/modification,” the order said.

The rules were drafted after state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s (ONGC) Mumbai High oilfields reported 86 casualties when Cyclone Tauktae struck the west coast in 2021. Drilling industry insiders said none of the drilling rig owners have upgraded the rigs to the 1989 MODU code yet since it will cost a few million dollars.

“Instead of upgrading their drilling units to meet safety norms, the drilling contractors are busy lobbying for the rules to be reversed,” said a senior industry official requesting anonymity. “Safety should not be compromised with.”

In fact, International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC), a Texas-based lobby group, has cited technical limitations to comply with the order. “IADC has grown concerned that new requirements contained within this order create a circumstance under which MODUs currently subject to, and in full compliance with, the 1979 MODU Code, may be compelled to undergo major modifications to meet 1989 or 2009 MODU Code provisions,” IADC senior vice president – international development Mike DuBose wrote in a letter to the DG shipping.

“The integrity of a MODU’s condition regardless of adherence to the 1979, 1989 or 2009 editions of the MODU Code can be confidently maintained in a fit for purpose manner as its satisfactory material condition can be regularly demonstrated through a comprehensive survey process,” DuBose said.ET has seen a copy of the letter. Industry players do not concur with IADC’s stand.

“IADC upholds the highest offshore safety norms back home in the US. So, it is surprising when it does not think the same stringent safety measures are to be applied to and adhered to in Indian waters,” said a senior industry official.

A senior official from Jindal Drilling said it would have been better if the DG Shipping had focused more on the safety aspect of the MODU code, instead of saying that the entire MODU code has to be changed.

“We have one rig in this category, so we are not impacted much, but we still think that safety of human life should have been given emphasis,” the official said. “Also, they could have given a timeline of five years instead of two for overhauling them.”

Upgrading a 1979 MODU could cost $1-3 million, the person said.

There are around 26 jack-up drilling rigs operating in Indian waters currently. Of these, six are owned by ONGC, certified under MODU Code of 1979. Rest 20 rigs are registered in overseas jurisdiction.

Though there is no age limit for offshore drilling rigs to operate, old rigs are considered less efficient, thereby impacting performance and production.


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