Oct. 14, 2016 –Government regulators must step up and challenge the status quo to ensure safety in the energy industry, University of Houston Law Center Professor Jacqueline Weaver told an international audience last week at the "First Inter-American Hydrocarbon Regulators Dialogue." Weaver served as the keynote speaker at the conference hosted by the Law Center's Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center at the Hilton University of Houston. Her talk, "The Role of the Regulator" discussed legal developments in the oil and gas industry, and traced many examples of environmental disasters that could have been prevented had regulators not waived a safety or environmental law, or approved a plan without reviewing it correctly.
"All major industrial disasters have resulted not just from industry failure, but from government failure, leading people to distrust the institutions put in place to protect the public interest," Weaver said. "Most disasters have been followed either by large-scale legislative reform or by litigation, but neither of these are a substitute for investing resources in agencies to assure that they can be nimble, competent and non-ideological regulators of the industries that they oversee."
Weaver said the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico led one industry trade group to urge offshore regulators to develop better databases of key indicators of accidents, incidents and near-misses to measure when risk levels offshore were rising so that operators would be warned to take better safety precautions.
Despite no recent major accidents in the oil and gas industry, Weaver said regulators must hold the industry accountable to maintain safety.
"Ultimately, the regulator's goal is to combat industry's inevitable sense of complacency, and to force continuous improvement on the entire industry as increasingly complex technology and procedures advance," she said.
She concluded that regulators should build "data rich" agencies that could analyze the key performance indicators and then audit, monitor and enforce the many entities in the industry in a smart, targeted manner.
The conference also featured four panel discussions that covered a wide range of topics.
The opening panel, "Dealing with Drilling Permits and Increase of Production" was led by David Porter, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission with comments from Weaver and Steve Otillar, partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Law Center Visiting Professor Julian Cardenas Garcia served as moderator.
The second panel, "The Promotion of Investments by the National Regulator" featured José Gutman of the Brazilian Petroleum Agency, Professor Eduardo Pereira from the University of Eastern Finland and Felipe Alice, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
The third panel, "Mexican Transparency Regulations in the Oil and Gas Sector," included Sergio Pimentel, commissioner of the National Hydrocarbons Commission of Mexico, Guillermo Emilio Zuñiga, commissioner of the Energy Regulatory Commission of Mexico, Dean Oscar Lugo of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon and Raymundo Piñones, commissioner of the Mexican Association of Hydrocarbons. Law Center scholar Ricardo Colmenter was the moderator.
The final panel, "Dealing with Legal and Social Issues in Colombia Regulatory Practice" was led by Juanita De la Hoz Herrera, a managing attorney at Ecopetrol. Commenters included Professor Ana Guiterrez from the Universidad Externado de Colombia, and Dr. Angel Curet, and oil and gas legal consultant.
The Law Center's Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, the Brazil-Texas Chamber of Commerce, and the Colombia-Texas Chamber of Commerce sponsored the conference. Attendees included regulators from Brazil, Mexico and Texas and also had the participation of Ecopetrol, the largest petroleum company in Colombia. Those who attended received 6.5 hours of Texas continuing legal education credit.