During the Obama administration, the federal government took action to prevent another Deepwater Horizon-sized oil spill, widely viewed as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. After taking office, the Trump administration immediately began making plans to relax certain offshore drilling rules implemented after the 2010 disaster.
As part of those regulatory rollback efforts, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which regulates offshore drilling, has developed a proposal that it estimates will save the industry more than $900 million over the next 10 years. The proposed changes would reverse safety measures that offshore oil and gas companies consider burdensome, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
The BSEE sent its proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget earlier this month for review, but the proposal has yet to be made public, according to the newspaper.
The proposal represents another component of President Donald Trump’s goal of achieving a “new era of American energy dominance,” and his desire to reduce the amount of federal regulations to the same level as 1960. Over the past 11 months, the Trump administration has canceled or delayed more than 1,500 planned regulatory actions, “more than any previous president, by far,” the president boasted on December 14 at a White House event.
The proposal would relax obligations to stream real-time data on offshore oil production operations to onshore facilities, where regulators can review them. The changes also would eliminate a requirement that BSEE must certify third-party inspectors of critical equipment, such as the blowout preventer that failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill.
On April 20, 2010, high-pressure forced oil and gas into and up a wellbore at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Blowout preventer valves and equipment designed to cut through and seal the drill pipe failed, allowing the oil and gas to surge up to the rig floor. The surge triggered an explosion on the rig that killed 11 oil workers and caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to spew into the ocean over an 87-day period.
After the disaster, the Obama administration spent five years working with the industry on a final rule. Since Trump took office, the American Petroleum Institute, the Offshore Operators Committee, and the National Ocean Industries Association have urged the new administration to loosen the so-called well control rule.
In April 2016, the BSEE issued the final rule, entitled “Oil and Gas and Sulfur Operations in the Outer Continental Shelf-Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control.” The Interior Department said in a regulatory plan released two weeks ago that it will propose changes to the safety rule “to reduce regulatory burdens and encourage job-creating development, while still ensuring safe and environmentally sustainable offshore operations.”
Trump named Scott Angelle, a former Louisiana utility regulator, to head the BSEE. Angelle was also paid a total of $989,238 between 2013 and 2016 as a member of the board of directors of Sunoco Logistics, according to Morning Consult. In April, the oil pipeline owner completed its merger with Energy Transfer Partners, the operator of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Angelle and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke promised earlier this year to grant the oil industry itself, not regulators, more say on what constitutes safe oil and gas industry operations in offshore areas, according to The Wall Street Journal.