The US Department of the Interior said Monday it wants to reverse some of the Trump administration’s offshore safety waivers to prevent releases like the BP disaster that killed 11 people and polluted the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
“This proposed rulemaking will help ensure that the latest advances in science and technology are used to develop offshore energy to keep people safe,” Home Secretary Deb Haaland said in a press release. “As our country transitions to a clean energy economy, we must commit to strengthening and modernizing offshore energy standards and oversight.”
The change is a step in the right direction, but not enough,” said Diane Hoskins of environmental nonprofit Oceana.
“No operator can promise that there won’t be another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. The only way to prevent offshore drilling disasters is to permanently protect our coasts and workers from new offshore leasing,” she said in an emailed statement.
Under Trump, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Protection took action in 2019 to change rules put in place three years earlier when Barack Obama was president.
The agency is proposing to change seven of the many corrections and additions made in 2019, director Kevin M. Sly Sr. said during a press conference call with Haaland.
He said it would require the bureau to accredit independent agencies that inspect offshore drilling rigs and equipment.
The other option would require the use of blowout preventers – equipment that failed in 2010 – to ensure that they are always able to meet the specifications for maximum gas flow from the well.
Others will require operators to send failure data to the federal maritime safety agency rather than to designated third parties, and will reduce the time to start failure analysis and investigation by one month to three months instead of four.
“The 2019 amendments to the Well Control Rule resolved technical issues and removed ambiguity by changing 68 of the 342 provisions of the original rule,” said Eric Milito, president of the National Oceanic Industries Association, which represents oil and gas companies. “Any further updates…should follow a similar bespoke approach.”
Environmental groups sued in 2019, arguing that the changes would make oil and gas exploration and development off the Pacific, Atlantic, Alaska and Persian Gulf coasts “significantly more dangerous.”
“We’re still looking into the proposed rule to determine the best way to move the lawsuit forward,” said Chris Eaton, senior lawyer for Earthjustice, who filed the lawsuit.
Scientists are still concerned about the impact of the country’s largest offshore oil spill on dolphins, whales, sea turtles, small fish vital to the food chain and ancient corals in the cold, dark depths.
The proposal opens a 60-day public comment period ending November 14th.
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