National News

U.S. to Roll Back Safety Rules Created After Deepwater Horizon Spill

Posted December 28, 2017 11:53 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is poised to roll back offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

A proposal by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which was established after the spill and regulates offshore oil and gas drilling, calls for reversing the Obama-era regulations as part of President Donald Trump’s efforts to ease restrictions on fossil fuel companies and generate more domestic energy production.

Doing so, the agency asserted, will reduce “unnecessary burdens” on the energy industry and save the industry $228 million over 10 years.

“This proposed rule would fortify the Administration’s objective of facilitating energy dominance” by encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production, even as it strengthens safety and environmental protection, the proposal says.

In April, Trump signed an executive order directing the Interior Department to “reconsider” several oil rig safety regulations. Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, at the time did not specify which specific equipment regulations would be reviewed, saying only the review would apply “from bow to stern.”

The agency will officially publish its proposed rule in the Federal Register on Friday and give the public 30 days to comment on the plan.

“By reducing the regulatory burden on industry, we are encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production while maintaining a high bar for safety and environmental sustainability,” Scott A. Angelle, director of the safety bureau, said in a statement.

Industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute have long opposed the safety rules, calling them “flawed and costly.” The fossil fuel interest group warned in 2015 that the regulations would reduce capital investment in the Gulf by $4 billion a year and threaten 50,000 industry jobs.

The National Ocean Industries Association, which also represents domestic offshore energy firms, welcomed the move.

“The proposed revisions to the Production Safety Systems Rule mark an integral step in the regulatory reform promised by President Trump,” Randall Luthi, the group’s president, said in comments released Thursday. “This ‘second bite at the apple’ provides an opportunity for further dialogue, discussion and debate to assure the nation’s offshore energy resources are developed safely and expeditiously,” Luthi said.

The Obama-era rules, written in 2016, tightened controls on blowout preventers, devices that are intended to stop explosions in undersea oil and gas wells, and called for rig operators to have third parties certify that the safety devices worked under extreme conditions. In the Deepwater Horizon spill, a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer failed after a section of drill pipe buckled.

Nearly 1 million coastal and offshore seabirds are estimated to have died in the spill, which spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea. The accident led to the largest environmental settlement in the nation’s history, with the oil giant BP agreeing to pay $18.7 billion in civil penalties and damages to the federal government and affected states.

Environmental groups warned that reversing the safety measures would make the United States vulnerable to another such disaster.

“Rolling back drilling safety standards while expanding offshore leasing is a recipe for disaster,” Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “By tossing aside the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Trump is putting our coasts and wildlife at risk of more deadly oil spills. Reversing offshore safety rules isn’t just deregulation, it’s willful ignorance.”