The Biden administration has restored more stringent Obama-era offshore drilling rules that the Trump administration rolled back after the oil and gas industry said the rules would hamper future development and production.
The Interior Department announced on Aug. 22 that it has finalized a well control rule that it says will enhance worker safety and ensure offshore oil and gas operations are conducted to the highest oversight and safety standards.
Deb Haaland, the Interior secretary, and Kevin Sligh, the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said in a joint statement that the new rules were informed in part by lessons from the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010, in which the BP Macondo well blowout killed 11 workers and cost billions of dollars for Gulf Coast restoration.
“Finalizing this rule will enable BSEE to continue to put the lives and livelihoods of workers first, as well as the protection of our waters and marine habitats,” Mr. Sligh said.
The new rule (pdf) brings back the vast majority of the Obama-era protections, including real-time drilling monitoring and more stringent safety requirement for blowout preventer systems (BOPs), which is a final barrier to loss of well control as it keeps pressurized oil and gas from bursting out.
A BOP failure was a key factor in the Deepwater Horizon incident, according to a report (pdf) from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board into the causes of what was one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Under the new rule, BOPs must now always seal wells under maximum pressure and failures must be reported to both a designated third party and the BSEE.
Also, operators must share BOP test results with the BSEE within 72 hours if they’re absent during testing.
Investigations after incidents must start within 90 days and independent third-party qualifications are required for permit applications.
Additionally, the new rule requires emergency safety devices to be certified by third parties and real-time monitoring drilling operations is required.
“This rule strengthens testing and performance requirements for blowout preventers and other well control equipment, provides for timely and robust analyses and investigations into failures, and clarifies reporting requirements to ensure we have appropriate visibility over information and data critical to maintaining well integrity,” Mr. Sligh said.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), a major U.S. oil and gas lobby, reacted to the announcement by decrying the rulemaking process as politically driven and failing to improve worker safety and protect the environment in a meaningful way.
“Regulatory clarity is critical for ensuring compliance and establishing safe operations, but this rule continues the rampant politicization of the rulemaking process and represents another policy swing from administration to administration, resulting in a policy that fails to meaningfully improve the safety of workers or protect the environment,” API vice president of upstream policy, Holly Hopkins, told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.
Ms. Hopkins added that the API would continue to work with policymakers to advance regulations that “help to improve worker safety, allow for flexibility for innovation, and protect the environment while strengthening U.S. energy security.”
The API was part of a coalition that included the International Association of Drilling Contractors, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the National Ocean Industries Association that wrote a letter (pdf) to the Interior Department in response to what was then a notice of proposed rulemaking published in the Federal Register on Sept. 14, 2022.
The letter said that the new rules would “impose unreasonable and economically infeasible burdens on energy development efforts without a measurable safety benefit,” while imposing compliance costs of around $200 million over a 10-year period.
The groups said some of the proposals in the new rule “could be so consequential as to render some leases economically unviable.”
While environmental groups contacted by The Epoch Times with requests for comment did not immediately respond, the Center for Biological Diversity expressed its opposition to the Trump-era rollback of the rule in 2019.
“We can’t let the Trump administration make dirty offshore drilling even more dangerous,” Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement at the time.
“By ignoring the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Trump is making the next catastrophic oil spill far more likely,” Ms. Monsell continued. “Rolling back safety standards while trying to aggressively expand offshore drilling just boggles the mind.”
The Center for Biological Diversity was part of a coalition that filed a lawsuit (pdf) to block the Trump administration’s rollbacks of offshore drilling regulations.
Ultimately, the rule that was adopted under President Donald Trump’s term included reducing the frequency of tests to blowout preventers and letting drillers use third-party companies rather than government inspectors to check equipment.
“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,” then Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement at the time.
Scott Angelle, head of BSEE during the Trump years, wrote in an opinion piece in Louisiana’s The Advocate newspaper that the agency had revised 68 of 342 provisions of the Obama administration’s well control rule, and put forward a “safer, smarter improved rule.”
“The rule unveiled today employs a performance-based approach to meet real-time monitoring requirements, removes duplicative certification requirements that add no value, reduces blowout preventer failure risks, and improves the expected lifespan of critical blowout preventer components,” Mr. Angelle wrote.
Responding to the Trump-era rule change, the API said that voluntary standards already adopted by the oil and gas industry, and pared-down regulation, would enhance offshore drilling safety.
“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,” said Eric Milito, the API’s vice president for offshore operations.
In her statement to The Epoch Times, the API’s vice president of upstream policy said that the oil and gas industry’s “top priority is protecting workers, maintaining safe operations, and safeguarding the environment while providing affordable, reliable energy.”
Reuters contributed to this report.