Risk & Compliance

Feds Propose Easing of Oil-Drilling Safety Rule

The Trump administration says its proposal will reduce industry compliance burdens but environmentalists call it a "recipe for disaster."
Matthew HellerJanuary 1, 2018

The Trump administration has extended its rollback of environmental regulations to offshore drilling, proposing revisions to safety standards adopted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said the changes to the Production Safety Rule, which were published Friday, will reduce industry compliance burdens by at least $228 million over 10 years.

The rule addresses safety and pollution prevention equipment, subsea safety devices and safety device testing for the production of oil and gas resources on the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS). The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, has warned that the regulations would reduce capital investment in the Gulf of Mexico by $4 billion a year and threaten 50,000 industry jobs.

“It’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we regulate the OCS,” BSEE Director Scott A. Angelle said in a news release.

“There was an assumption made previously that only more rules would increase safety, but ultimately it is not an either/or proposition,” he added. “We can actually increase domestic energy production and increase safety and environmental protection.”

But environmentalists expressed dismay at the proposal, saying it would make the U.S. vulnerable to a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout, which spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.

“Rolling back drilling safety standards while expanding offshore leasing is a recipe for disaster,” Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “By tossing aside the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Trump is putting our coasts and wildlife at risk of more deadly oil spills.”

The proposal reduces some of industry’s obligations, for example by dropping requirements that many plans and drawings of safety systems on offshore oil platforms must be stamped and signed by professional engineers and that installed systems of pumps and valves must be safety tested.

The administration is also expected in February to propose  changes to the Well Control Rule, which governs the way offshore oil and gas drillers ensure that wells will not experience a catastrophic blowout.