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GOP blasts offshore safety rules

Federal government expects Gulf of Mexico oil production to be the highest in 10 years.

By Daniel J. Graeber
GOP blasts offshore safety rules
An all-Republican panel in New Orleans criticized federal regulations meant to ensure safe drilling operations offshore. File photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI | License Photo

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Republican leaders in the House of Representatives took the podium in New Orleans to criticize federal regulations regarding offshore oil and gas activity.

"This administration's energy policy appears to have two objectives: cause Louisianans to lose their jobs and continue our dependence on foreign oil," Rep. Garrett Graves, R-La., testified.

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The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is developing new standards to close what it sees as gaps in the measures enacted in the wake of the BP oil spill in 2010. New rules would cover blowout preventers, equipment used to close down a failed well. The failure of the blowout prevent was among the cascading series of events that led to the 2010 disaster.

An all-Republican panel in New Orleans blasted the new rules as too costly and burdensome to an industry operating safely under current regulations.

Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said more regulations don't necessarily equate to safer operations offshore. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee of Natural Resources, added the new regulations would act as a de facto moratorium on offshore development.

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"Federal regulations such as the proposed well-control threaten another moratorium by shutting down the majority of the Gulf rig fleet," he testified.

Lars Herbst, regional director for the BSEE, said oil production in the Gulf of Mexico last year was the highest since the 2010 oil spill. By 2016, production should reach 1.7 million barrels of oil per day for the highest rate in 10 years.

For federal regulators, Herbst said safety was the top priority.

"By doing things safely and ensuring that incidents do not cause significant damage to the entire region, we are helping to safeguard the long-term viability of production in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "Sustained production and a robust culture of safety are not mutually exclusive."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is proposing a March 2016 auction for offshore acreage with the combined potential production of around 895 million barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The proposed auction builds on the first eight sales under a five-year program, which generated nearly $3 billion in bids for the federal government.

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