Energy & Environment

Trump administration eases Obama-era offshore drilling safety rules

The Trump administration on Thursday announced final plans to ease oil and gas drilling rules that were originally established as a response to the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The move will remove some of the safety mandates placed on the oil and gas industry under former President Obama, which industry members argued were too burdensome and cost prohibitive.

{mosads}Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the rule revision in Port Fourchon, La., a major location for offshore drilling near the Gulf of Mexico.

Bernhardt called the rule change an elimination of “unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”‘

“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common sense way,” Bernhardt said in a statement released Thursday.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, America is a leader on energy resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”

Interior characterized the rule change as a “smarter regulation” that provides regulatory certainty.

Proposed safety changes to the Interior Department’s Well Control Rule include loosening requirements for real-time monitoring of offshore drilling operations and easing requirements for companies to hold third-party certifications of easy access emergency equipment, to be used in the case of explosions or oil and gas leaks from wells.

The requirements tweaked under the new rule were finalized in 2016 as a response to the BP oil spill, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The safety mechanisms were established over the course of six years by investigators who looked into BP’s well failure.

The historic oil spill killed 11 workers in 2010 and led to the spewing of more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico over a total of 87 days.

The oil industry and its allies, including most congressional Republicans, have long complained that parts of the rule were unnecessarily burdensome and sought to have them overturned. Many of those provisions would be undone with the Trump final rule.

The White House Office of Management and Budget on Monday announced that it had completed a review of the drafted regulation that cleared it for a final release. A number of the changes rolled out Thursday were previously outlined in a proposal last April. The announcement of the changes came a week after the eighth anniversary of the BP explosion.

Also, changes suggested in Interior’s plan would ease the testing requirements for key safety equipment like blowout preventers — large gadgets affixed to drilling platforms that are meant to stop the blowouts that lead to oil spills.

BP’s preventer infamously malfunctioned, in part leading to the expansive disaster. The expected change would allow independent third parties to conduct routine reviews of the blowout preventers, instead of mandating the checks be done by government inspectors.

Interior highlighted Thursday that 80 percent of the original rule was left unchanged under the revision.

Separately, in September, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) moved to ease provisions of another key drilling rule focused on safety requirements for the period when an offshore platform is producing oil and natural gas, instead of the drilling process. The administration argued that rule would save the industry $13 million per year, without sacrificing safety or going against any of the recommendations that grew out Deepwater Horizon.

The BSEE also announced a new plan last March to increase the time officials spent physically inspecting oil rigs, but drop the frequency of their visits, a move they argued was more efficient and would reduce taxpayer spending by nearly $20 million over 3 1/2 years.

Environmentalists have sharply criticized changes made under the Trump administration to well safety. They called Thursday’s final rule “reckless.”

“The well control rule was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea. The rule draws directly from lessons learned from that debacle. It creates tools to help reduce the risk of these dangerous industrial operations at sea,” Bob Deans, director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “That’s irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”

Chris Eaton, an attorney for Earthjustice, called the move a “hand out” to the fossil fuel industry.

“The Trump administration is rolling back mechanisms and technology designed to protect rig workers and prevent another disaster offshore. These rollbacks are a hand out to oil company CEOs at the cost of endangering the lives of their workers and heightening the risk for another environmental catastrophe off America’s coastlines,” he said.

Fossil fuel industry representatives cheered the rule revision.

Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s vice president of upstream and industry operations, said the new measures would enhance safety.

“This revised well control rule will help to further manage risks and better protect workers and the environment. The revision strengthens the rule and enhances a robust regulatory framework to ensure updated, modern, and safe technologies, best practices, and operations,” he said in a statement.

Tags BP Deepwater Horizon Donald Trump Drilling landmark oil spill

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