Trump’s offshore drilling expansion, deregulation is deadly combo

The Trump administration is playing a dangerous game with our oceans and coastal communities. By trying to expand offshore oil drilling while simultaneously rolling back drilling-safety standards put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Trump is making more major oil spills inevitable. 

If a spill happens in the Arctic Ocean — where Trump is trying to invite oil companies into federal waters that were protected by President Obama — treacherous conditions would make cleanup impossible.  

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But wherever the next big oil spill happens, wildlife will die and coastal communities will suffer. 

The Gulf of Mexico and its coastline still haven’t recovered from 2010’s Deepwater Horizon blowout, which killed 11 workers and thousands of marine animals as it gushed more than 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf for almost three months. The country’s worst environmental disaster clearly called for new regulations to prevent it from happening again. 

Yet such obvious lessons are ignored in Trump’s reckless pursuit of so-called “energy dominance.” Just as he pretends climate change isn’t real or connected to our dependence on fossil fuels, Trump acts as if the oil industry can be trusted to self-regulate. 

That’s essentially what the new administration rules, announced over the holidays, mandate.

After well-blowout prevention devices suffered catastrophic failures on Deepwater Horizon, the Obama administration called for third-party inspections of safety equipment. It was a measured, reasonable response to such an epic industry failure – one called for by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon that investigated the causes and lessons of the disaster. 

But it’s a requirement Trump is revoking. 

And that’s just one of several safety-rule changes the oil industry has requested and Trump’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is preparing to adopt following a quick 30-day public-comment period. Even a series of small changes — replacing “must” with “should” throughout the regulations — could significantly undermine regulation of this powerful industry. 

On a separate track, the Trump administration is also trying to relax testing standards for well-control devices and allow oil companies more time to investigate equipment failures. Those BSEE-requested changes are now being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.     

Trump has also ordered the safety bureau to review the rule for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean for possible suspension, revision or repeal. The bureau finalized the “Arctic Ocean Drilling Safety” rule in 2016 after years in development following Shell’s 2012 disastrous oil explorations in the Arctic and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

These safety rollbacks are being introduced just as the administration is preparing to release a new five-year draft oil-leasing plan for federal waters to reflect Trump’s April 28  executive order to significantly expand offshore drilling. That plan is expected to open up the Arctic and perhaps the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well — bodies of water long excluded from federal oil leasing. 

Even on its best days, offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous. Small oil spills happen so often in the heavily drilled Gulf of Mexico that they rarely even make the news. But the combination of more drilling and less safety regulation significantly increases the chances of bigger, deadlier spills.

In announcing the drilling safety rule rollbacks Dec. 28, Trump’s BSEE Director Scott Angelle, had the chutzpah to said, “We can actually increase domestic energy production and environmental protection.” 

Here’s the reality: We can’t protect our oceans by letting the oil industry do whatever it wants. It’s a childish fantasy to believe we can deregulate offshore drilling without having coastal communities, marine wildlife and our climate pay a terrible price.  

Kristen Monsell is the oceans program legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity.