Ocean Protection, Updates, Not the answer
July 09 2018

Federal Government Moves to Weaken Safety Rules for Offshore Drilling

by Pete Stauffer

The Trump administration is proposing to weaken the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” that was created to prevent offshore drilling accidents and related oil spills. This reckless move underscores the risks of expanding offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters. 

Eight years ago, the world watched in horror as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing eleven workers and triggering one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. For 87 straight days, oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating marine life and coastal economies before officials could contain the blowout. Now, the federal government is moving to repeal the very safety rules that were created in response to this disaster.

On May 11th, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement published a federal register notice stating its intent to modify rules governing offshore oil and gas well control and blowout preventer systems. Specifically, the new regulations would weaken federal standards on well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time monitoring and subsea containment – all of which are critical factors in preventing offshore drilling accidents. 

But perhaps the greatest cause for concern is that the rules slated for repeal were established based on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In the aftermath of the BP oil spill, President Obama convened the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling to provide recommendations to prevent similar disasters from happening in the future. Their final report pulled no punches, concluding the accident was a result of “systemic failures” in the offshore oil industry and that government reform was urgently needed.

Based on the commission’s recommendations, the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” was finalized by federal regulators in 2016. At the time, the action was heralded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as “the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas regulation and oversight in U.S. history.” More to the point, the reforms worked: according to government statistics, incidents involving loss of well control have declined dramatically since the rule took effect, including zero cases in 2017.

However, the oil and gas industry does not appear to be a fan of regulations that it perceives as burdensome and unnecessary. Since the adoption of these safety rules, the industry has pushed hard for their repeal, spending millions of dollars on lobbying, campaign donations, and public relations. And with the Trump administration prioritizing support for expanded oil and gas development, the industry has found itself a natural ally.

While the Surfrider Foundation is certainly no proponent of offshore oil drilling, we strongly believe that existing operations must be carried out with the utmost safety and environmental precautions. This includes protecting both the safety of workers, as well as the marine and coastal environment. The heartbreaking images of oil-soaked birds, fish, dolphins, and turtles from the Gulf oil spill must continue to serve as a reminder for why stringent regulations for offshore drilling are needed.

Surfrider is joining many of our coalition partners in submitting comments against this ill-advised proposal before the August 6th deadline. Our comments will emphasize the importance of safety standards and government oversight to ensure that the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are not forgotten. For more information on the administration’s proposal and comment period, please visit the federal government's revised well control rule page here.

With offshore drilling slated to become even more dangerous, Surfrider urges all of our supporters to speak out against new offshore drilling. The Trump administration has proposed expanding oil and gas development to over 90% of U.S. waters, putting our marine environment and coastal communities at unnecessary risk. Please visit the links below to make your voice heard!

Tell your federal representative to oppose offshore drilling click here

Visit Surfrider’s Stop Offshore Drilling campaign page