The Trump administration said Thursday it would roll back several major regulations meant to safeguard offshore drilling rigs, ending a bevy of safety measures put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Interior Department announced the newly revised Well Control Rule as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to expand offshore drilling and U.S. “energy dominance.” Under the rules, oil companies will be required to safety test devices meant to stop leaks for only 5 minutes every 21 days, far less frequently than in the past. The plan will also end mandatory reporting of some of those tests to the Interior Department.
“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common sense way,” newly confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhard said in a statement Thursday. “Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”
The changes are expected to save the oil industry more than $824 million over the next 10 years. They will go into effect 60 days after they are published in the Federal Register, which should happen within the next week, according to The New York Times.
Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist who faced a tough confirmation battle over his coziness with the fossil fuel industry, noted the new policies were part of Trump’s effort to make America an energy production leader “resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”
The changes prompted an immediate outcry from environmental groups who worry they would open the door to yet another disaster like Deepwater Horizon.
“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,” Bob Deans, the director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “If the Trump administration’s final rule weakens these protections, as its proposed changes did, it will put our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. That’s irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”
The BP oil spill was the worst in U.S. history. An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers in April 2010 and the spill took months to cap before it was finally sealed off in late September. More than 210 million gallons of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico during that time, causing billions of dollars in environmental damages. The event also led to a dramatic loss of plant and animal life, and scientists are still studying the long-term effects on marine mammals and sea turtles.
Under the new regulations, oil companies will no longer be required to hire third-party safety inspectors to test the equipment meant to prevent leaks, known as blowout preventers. That same device failed during the BP spill.
The Trump White House has been moving to open up America’s oil fields for years, to various success. A federal judge blocked a plan to open up almost all of the country’s coastal waters to oil and gas leasing earlier this month, and Bernhardt said the Interior Department would put that plan on hold as it made its way through the court system. The White House has also gone ahead with an approval process that would allow geology companies to use seismic mapping to search for oil and gas deposits in the oceans, technology that many scientists say does harm to marine mammals and fish.
Such efforts have been hailed by oil companies.
“This progress goes hand-in-hand with the proposed revisions to a number of offshore regulations to ensure that smarter and more effective regulations are constantly evolving, as we move forward with safe and responsible offshore development,” Eric Milito, the vice president for offshore operations at the American Petroleum Institute, told Reuters.