Interior Department says it has returned to Obama-era enforcement of offshore drilling waiver rules

Interior Department says it has returned to Obama-era enforcement of offshore drilling waiver rules
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The Biden administration on Monday said it will return to Obama-era practices for granting waivers of offshore drilling safety regulations after environmental groups alleged the Trump administration relied on criteria that were not available to the public.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said in a letter that it remained committed to the Obama-era practice of approving waivers on a case-by-case basis. In a 2019 lawsuit, conservation group Healthy Gulf accused the Trump administration of unlawfully switching to a waiver approval process that relied on unpublished standards that were not made available to the public.  

Upon receiving a waiver request, “BSEE adjudicates the request on a case-by-case basis based on the existing regulatory criteria and its experience evaluating similar requests,” acting BSEE Director Scott Mabry said in the letter.

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In a statement, Healthy Gulf Executive Director Cynthia Sarthou said proper enforcement of the regulations was necessary to avert incidents such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Well Control Rule was one of the few safety measures implemented after the BP Drilling Disaster that would prevent another catastrophic blowout. The Trump administration was frequently waiving this important rule,” Sarthou said in the statement. “We’re glad that the Biden administration has agreed that the rule should be enforced to protect our workers and communities.”

Healthy Gulf has voluntarily withdrawn its lawsuit in response to the letter.

Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the rule revision in May 2019, saying it would remove "unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore." Chris Eaton, an attorney for Earthjustice, referred to the rollbacks a handout to the oil and gas industries at the time, saying they came “at the cost of endangering the lives of their workers and heightening the risk for another environmental catastrophe off America’s coastlines.”