Offshore drilling safety rule nears completion

A regulation meant to improve offshore oil and natural gas drilling is in its last phase before it can be made final.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) sent its new standards for blowout preventers to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Thursday for its review, a required step before finalization.

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The blowout preventer rule is the most significant overhaul of offshore drilling rules since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and ensuing 87-day oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in United States history.

Blowout preventers are a key piece of safety equipment meant to stop spills. The one on the Deepwater Horizon rig failed, leading to the spill; the industry has voluntarily made significant improvements to its standards for blowout preventers since then.

The BSEE rule would require third-party verification of design standards, enhanced onshore monitoring of performance and new engineering standards for operation.

The oil industry says much of the rule is unnecessary.

“In many ways, BSEE’s proposal acknowledges how the industry has taken the lead to improve safety,” Erik Milito, director of downstream operations for the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, certain aspects of the rule, if not fixed, could have unintended consequences that increase the risk to people and the environment.”

The OMB has 90 days to review the rule, but it can extend the timeline.