House Republicans Say Oil Spill Prevention Rule Should Be Easier On Oil Companies


Almost five years after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill sent millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration announced a set of new offshore drilling rules that it hoped would prevent another massive oil spill. Now, as those rules appear to be racing towards finalization, House Republicans are asking the administration to revise the rules to lessen the burden on the oil industry.

In a letter sent to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) last Friday, Reps. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Ken Calvert (R-CA) expressed concern that the new rules could be so burdensome to the oil industry that they might “severely limit both existing and future safe energy development in our nation’s outer Continental Shelf.” They also worry that without a clear regulatory path toward permit approval, oil companies might be “unable to move forward on approving multi-billion dollar investments to develop our nation’s offshore energy resources.”

The proposed regulations, first introduced by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in April of last year, would require oil and gas companies to perform regular tests and maintenance on their blowout preventers, a piece of equipment that seals and controls oil and gas wells. The new rules would also require blowout preventers to undergo a third party review every year, and an additional detailed inspection every five years. It was the blowout preventer that failed during the Deepwater Horizon Spill, which eventually became the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history, though there is some debate about the extent to which the blowout preventer’s failure was the main cause of the spill.  Both Bishop, who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and Calvert, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, wrote that the rules — which they say set arbitrary limits on drilling not born out by science — could staunch economic growth in the Gulf area and hinder the United States’ ability to produce its own fuel.


“Energy production in the Gulf of Mexico produces 16 percent of our nation’s oil and 5 percent of our natural gas — and is a key driver for economic opportunity not only in the Gulf states but throughout our nation,” they wrote in the letter. “From manufacturing, to refining, to the American families who are now seeing lower prices at the gas pump, all benefit from the increased energy production on our lands and waters.”

The oil industry began voicing opposition to many of the proposed regulations months ago, arguing that the set of rules will impose burdensome costs that will be difficult to bear.

But the oil industry and House Republicans are far from the only parties to take issue with some of the proposed offshore regulations. When the proposed rules were first announced, environmentalists worried that they were too similar to the best practices already used by the oil industry, and would do little to make meaningful inroads in preventing another massive oil spill.

“Are we really strengthening safety or are we just making these [provisions] official?” Jackie Savitz, vice president of U.S. Oceans at Oceana, told the Wall Street Journal last April when the rules were first announced.

Interior Department officials, despite criticism, told the Hill in Februrary that they expect to finalize the rules soon. As written, the rules would take between three to seven years to go into full effect, as a way of giving oil and gas companies enough time to comply.


Even without the rules, offshore drilling has become an increasingly tenuous venture for oil companies in the years since the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Last year, Shell suffered a very public blow when it announced that it would indefinitely cease exploratory drilling in the Arctic, after spending billions of dollars in a high-profile campaign to drill in the Chukchi Sea 140 miles off the coast of Alaska.

According to Mother Jones, both ExxonMobil and Chevron’s earnings dropped by more than 50 percent in the last year alone. For the oil industry, the cost of developing new offshore projects has risen by 120 percent since 2000, while supplies of crude have increased just 11 percent.

The Gulf of Mexico, however, continues to see an unparalleled growth in its oil production, despite the low price of oil. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Gulf of Mexico crude oil production is estimated to reach record high levels in 2017. Between 2015 and 2017, 14 new projects are expected to be operational in the Gulf.