Oil Drilling

7 years ago, the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded, killing 11 crew members and releasing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

In 2016, the Obama administration released the final set of rules and regulations on offshore oil drilling in an attempt to prevent an event like the Deepwater Horizon disaster from happening again. Now, the Trump administration is trying to reverse those restrictions, as reported by The New York Times.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) — which was established in response to the 2010 oil spill — is now leading the charge on rolling back the Obama-era regulations. In a proposal drafted by the BSEE, the organization claims the current restrictions place "unnecessary burdens" on the drilling industry.

Fireboat crews attempting to extinguish the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Image Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

"By reducing the regulatory burden on industry, we are encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production while maintaining a high bar for safety and environmental sustainability,” Scott A. Angelle, director of the BSEE, said in a statement. Angelle went on to state that the current regulations were put in place based on the prior assumption that "only more rules" would make operations safer. Instead, Angelle suggests that it's "not an either / or" situation and that the U.S. can simultaneously "increase domestic energy production and increase safety and environmental protection.”

Another Policy Reversal

While some groups like the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) support the move, saying they welcome the opportunity to "comment on this important regulation" and other policies currently in place, other organizations are against the reversal, claiming it will only invite disaster.

“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 in a statement as reported by The New York Times. “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. Reversing offshore safety rules isn’t just deregulation, it’s willful ignorance.”

U.S. Coast Guard collecting oil using a skimming boom. Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense

The Deepwater Horizon incident wasn't the first of its kind. Nearly two years prior, in September 2008, BP suffered a similar accident in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan that resulted in a blowout. In both cases, a "bad cement job" was said to be a key factor. To Sakashita's point, both accidents occurred before proper regulations were created, and now serve as proof of what could happen if the current rules are removed.

Director Sakashita's statement can also be applied to other reversals made by the Trump administration this year, such as the decision to continue the Keystone XL pipeline project after President Obama had halted it. Months after reversing the decision, the pipeline leaked 210,000 gallons of oil, but that didn't stop the approval of the pipeline's expansion.

We'll have to wait and see if the BSEE can deliver on their claim of increasing energy production while offering better protection to both employees and the environment. As the world shifts towards clean energy, the BSEE's reversal may only be beneficial to the drilling and oil industries for a couple of years: a couple of weeks ago, the World Bank announced it would stop offering financial support for oil and gas exploration after 2019.

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