House Democrats push investigation of Trump rollback of offshore drilling regs

House Democrats push investigation of Trump rollback of offshore drilling regs

House Democrats are pushing for an investigation into a Trump administration decision to roll back offshore drilling safety measures put in place after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.   

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) probe into the federal government’s oil spill response capabilities.

“The Trump Administration’s misguided proposals to expand drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters and rollback of important offshore drilling safety regulations may increase the risk of another catastrophic spill. It is imperative that the federal government is adequately prepared to respond to offshore oil spills,” committee leaders wrote in a letter to GAO.

The investigation request comes as Democrats from the House Natural Resources Committee last week requested the Interior Department turn over documents tied to its decision to roll back offshore drilling regulations.

That decision has been a controversial one.

In June, environmental groups sued, arguing the Trump administration did not provide adequate justification for scaling back rules that were previously found to improve the safety of offshore drilling for both rig workers and the environment.

“The Trump administration is now rolling back these regulations allegedly to reduce the burden on industry,” Chris Eaton, an attorney with Earthjustice, said when the group filed the suit. The problem, he said, is the federal government is “basically just rolling the dice when it comes to worker safety and oil spills.” 

The regulations were put in place under former President Obama in 2011 in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which put millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Under the Trump policy, third-party inspectors, rather than the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement itself, would inspect wells' safety systems, something critics say opens the door to less rigorous scrutiny and leaves companies forwarding performance logs to the outside inspectors for what Eaton described as a “paperwork review.”

The new regulations also reduce testing of safety equipment, including well caps, and end the requirement that companies have an onshore team analyzing production to flag safety issues for rig workers who may not be able to note changes in how equipment is performing.

The future of offshore oil drilling under the Trump administration remains unclear. The Interior Department decided to pause the release of its five-year offshore drilling plan while it appeals a decision from an Alaska judge that upheld Obama’s choice to block drilling in the Arctic. 

Meanwhile, the House has forwarded bipartisan bills that would block offshore drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.