Major regulations meant to safeguard offshore drilling rigs that came into play after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster were eliminated this week.
The Interior Department unveiled the 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 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.
Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, said 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,” said Bob Deans, the director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
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.