Regulators tighten rules for offshore drillers

Regulators tighten rules for offshore drillers
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Federal regulators are proposing a regulation to improve a piece of offshore drilling equipment, five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill raised questions about safety.

The new standards unveiled Monday target blowout preventers, which serve as an emergency backup to stop oil and natural gas disasters like the one in 2010 at a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico.

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The standards are the most significant response yet to the 2010 incident, which started with a well blowout on the sea floor, killed 11 workers and resulted in an 87-day spill that was one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.

Officials said the proposed regulations from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) build on work the oil and natural gas industry has already done to improve standards since the 2010 spill.

“We’ve taken great strides since then to strengthen, update and modernize energy regulations to ensure that offshore oil and gas development is done safely and responsibly,” Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellOvernight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Overnight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick GOP chairman probes Zinke’s charter plane use MORE told reporters Monday.

“Through this proposed rule, we’re requiring more stringent design requirements and stricter operational procedures for critical equipment used in offshore energy development,” she added.

Jewell said it is the Interior Department’s responsibility to ensure that offshore drilling, which brings in 16 percent of the country’s oil and 5 percent of its natural gas, is done in a way that protects workers and the environment.

“We owe it to the American people to ensure we’re developing these resources responsibly and safely,” she said.

Investigators said the blowout preventer was one of the main points of failure in the Deepwater Horizon spill. The oil and gas coming out of the well bent the well pipe in such a way that prohibited the blowout preventer from cutting the pipe in the right way.

The new rule would mandate another set of cutting shears for that specific purpose.

In addition to the new design standards for the equipment, the BSEE also wants repair and maintenance actions to be logged with federal officials.

“It would provide verification of the performance of equipment designs through third party verification, enhanced oversight of operations through real-time monitoring viewed onshore, and require operators to, during operations, utilize recognized engineering best standards that reduce risk,” BSEE Director Brian Salerno said in a statement.

The oil industry said it would withhold judgment on the proposal while it reviews it.

But the American Petroleum Institute (API) said it hopes regulators take into account the work the industry has already done in this area.

“A great deal of effort has been put into strengthening spill containment and response, but our first goal is always to prevent accidents from happening at all,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream industry operations for API, said in a statement. “Our industry is committed to meeting the nation’s energy needs while maintaining safe and environmentally responsible operations.”

“This long overdue proposed rule helps bring drilling safety into the modern era, and that’s a goal everyone should embrace,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Before the critics start their predictable calls of ‘burdensome’ and ‘unnecessary,’ they should think about the ongoing costs of the spill — to our fishermen, lobstermen, tourism professionals, and above all the families of those who died because of a permissive regulatory culture that can’t continue,” he said.

— This report was updated at 2:32 p.m.