Major offshore drilling regulation coming soon

Federal regulators are putting the finishing touches on their offshore drilling regulation meant to prevent undersea well blowouts.

Tommy Beaudreau, chief of staff at the Interior Department, said the well control rule from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will be finalized soon.

It’s the most significant rule stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, in which a well blowout killed 11 workers and caused a uncontrolled oil spill for 87 days at a BP-owned well.

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“We’ve been working ever since to try to develop new standards and new rules with respect to well control, both with respect to that critical piece of equipment, the blowout preventer ... but also other well control measures, designed to prevent us from getting to that point of having to activate the [blowout preventer],” Beaudreau said Friday at a Columbia University event.

The rule focuses on setting new standards for blowout preventers, a key piece of safety equipment meant to stop an out-of-control spill. It’s meant to cut the well’s piping near the seafloor and plug it permanently, but the Deepwater Horizon one didn’t work as planned.

Beaudreau came to Interior to help the agency with the offshore drilling regulation following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. He was the first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, one of the new agencies created after a reorganization.

The well control rule is extremely controversial in the oil industry, due largely to the costs of complying with strict new standards for equipment.

The industry is pushing back and saying that while much of the proposal makes sense, it goes too far in a number of ways.

But Beaudreau said his agency is staying the course.

“We really believe, strongly, that this well control rule has always been a fundamental part of the reform effort, and it needs to be completed, so that we can continue raising the bar on safety,” he said.

In looking back at Deepwater Horizon, Beaudreau said there are numerous lessons for both government and industry to learn from the mistakes.

“Part of the story of Deepwater Horizon, I think, was one of overconfidence and complacency,” he said, adding that he wants to “make sure we don’t go to sleep again, either on the industry side or the regulatory side.”

He said that before the spill, industry and regulators were overly confident that the practices were safe.

“It turns out, looking back at it, there were a lot more near-misses than anyone understood,” he said of drilling disasters.