11/4/2014: Assistant Commandant for Prevention on the interconnectivity of domestic energy, complexity of systems and the greening of industry

Last week, the North American Marine Environment Protection Association hosted a conference in New York, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas was a keynote speaker.

Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy, was asked to provide a regulatory review at the NAMEPA conference. Thomas shared what he sees as the most significant factors influencing maritime governance today and into the future. Maritime Commons will present an excerpt of the key takeaways from Thomas’ remarks in a three part series.

His comments shared in this post are meant to introduce the three concepts presented in the three-part series and discuss their impact on governance.

Delivered by Rear Adm. Paul Thomas

I’d like to share what I see as the most significance factors influencing maritime governance today and into the future.

I use the term maritime governance instead of domestic regulation for a very specific reason that I think is critical to our approach to the opportunities and challenges facing this industry. Regulations are one means for providing and achieving governance. They can also be the slowest, least flexible, less effective and most expensive approach.

In a recent Coast Guard study, we determined that 88% of the entire cost burden to industry, since 1993, was due to exactly two regulations: the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the Maritime Transportation Security Act. These regulations each followed arguably predictable events that we all should have been working on before they garnered global attention. The lesson is clear; wait for spectacular failure and Congress will fix the problem through expensive regulation.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite and important role for domestic regulations. But regulations are only part of the process for maritime governance; maritime governance also includes international standards, regional regimes and, most importantly, industry standards and best practices.

Let me just touch on the three most important factors influencing maritime governance from a standards development stand point, today and in the decade to come. Read more about these three areas in the 3-part series that starts tomorrow. I wanted to provide a synopsis on how these three concepts are all interconnected. All three are driven by technology among other factors, and all are here today.

These three factors are covered in a three-part series on Maritime Commons:

1) Domestic oil and gas production
2) Greening of industry
3) The “complexity cycle” – the more capable technology allows more complex – and high risk operations – which require very complex systems to monitor, manage and mitigate risk.

These three factors merge with the greatest acuity in offshore drilling and production, but they impact all segments of the maritime industry to varying degrees. In each case these three factors represent tremendous opportunity for industry, for our nation, and for the global economy, environment and standard of living. They also all come with significant challenges; so they are ripe for governance.

The domestic energy production and transport boom will challenge us with regard to capacity; infrastructure capacity, capacity to provide qualified mariners, capacity to provide relevant and timely standards and people who can understand and ensure compliance with those standards.

Even as the energy production boom and other factors demand significantly greater capacity from the Maritime Transportation System, the long term viability of the MTS demands a significantly reduced environmental footprint. Environmental concerns, regarding all waste streams, will continue to drive maritime governance for the decades to come. Effective implementation of environmental standards requires increased transparency on the part of all stakeholders. The technology exists today to create this transparency and achieve the “greening” of the MTS.

Finally, the third factor, what I call the complexity cycle, will challenge our ability to understand and manage complex systems and operations associated with the energy renaissance; particularly with regard to highly complex and high consequence operations such as deep water drilling, large passenger vessel operations and fully automated terminals.

Implication for governance

The energy boom, greening of the industry and complexity cycle will be major drivers of maritime governance for decades to come. Yes, we will have to continue the development of standards for things like; LNG fueled vessels and LNG fueling operations; Dynamic Positioning systems , fracking water transport, software integration and management, navigation systems and cyber safety and security.

But we also must ensure that standards and regulation “bake in” transparency, build governance capacity and make safety management systems real and effective.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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