Offshore safety rules gain clarity, supporters say

Changing any rule is sure to draw criticism, but an offshore industries group tells UPI an overhaul might make things easier to regulate.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Offshore safety rules gain clarity, supporters say
A rollback of rules implemented after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill actually adds clarity for offshore operators, an industry group said. File Photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI | License Photo

April 30 (UPI) -- Despite some criticism, proposed revision to rules regarding offshore safety will add a level of clarity that should help with enforcement, a trade group said.

On Friday, the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement outlined proposed rules on offshore drilling safety mechanisms like blowout preventers. Some of those proposals were outlined in late December, to the frustration of those opposed to more offshore drilling.


After the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, which left 11 rig workers dead, the Interior Department issued rules on safety measures like the blowout preventer and well-casing pressures. Under U.S. President Donald Trump, the department said it found some of those provisions were "potentially unduly burdensome" and did little to actually improve safety or protect the environment.

When initially proposed, the rollback was met with sweeping criticism from environmental advocates expressing concern about a Trump administration clearly aligned with oil and gas interests. Randal Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, told UPI that he recognized some of the concern.

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"While there has been some criticism about changing the rule at all, the revisions proposed are necessary to promote safety in a regulation that is clearer as well as more easily implementable and enforceable," Luthi said Monday.

The American Petroleum Institute, one of the industry's main lobby groups, said the proposal shows the government is evolving along with an oil and gas sector that's taken heed of offshore incidents like Deepwater Horizon.

"As with all regulations, it is important that offshore safety regulations -- including BSEE's Well Control Rule -- constantly evolve and are revised based upon new insights and developments in the offshore exploration and development field," Erik Milito, the director of industry operations for the API, said in a statement.

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The BSEE said it was not removing requirements like real-time monitoring or third-party requirements for testing of a blowout preventer, which was one of the mechanisms that triggered the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Nor would it eliminate the requirements for a fast response should a blowout failure occur.

"There are several redundant reporting requirements in the current regulations," the agency stated.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., tabled legislation that would prevent a rollback of the offshore drilling rules put in place after the BP oil spill in 2010. One of the more vocal opponents of Trump's energy agenda, Nelson said the president was playing with fire.

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"These rules were put in place to prevent another massive oil spill off our coasts," he said in emailed comments. "We can't allow this new administration to take us backwards in time and, once again, expose Florida's beautiful beaches and tourism-based economy to such an unnecessary risk."

Florida is at the center of a debate over Trump's offshore drilling proposal, which would open up nearly all U.S. territorial waters to drillers starting as early as next year. Shortly after the plan was released, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who may be challenging Nelson's seat, that Florida was removed from consideration, which later proved not to be the case.

BP in 2012 claimed Halliburton, which owned the Deepwater Horizon, destroyed test results regarding cement used to seal the well beneath the rig. Halliburton said the charges were baseless, though a report from U.S. regulators determined the blowout that led to the explosion that sunk the rig was in part because of a faulty cement barrier.

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