Drilling Safety Rules Rolled Back

Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. A Coast Guard MH-65C dolphin rescue helicopter and crew document the fire aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon, while searching for survivors. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes and cutters responded to rescue the Deepwater Horizon's 126 person crew.

The federal agency charged with ensuring the protection of worker safety and the environment by companies that develop oil and gas offshore just rolled back key provisions of one of the only real safety improvements implemented by the federal government since the BP disaster -- the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule. This rule was intended to address very real concerns that arose after the BP disaster.

The facts surrounding the BP oil disaster are well known. On April 20, 2010, as oil and other fluids began to gush onto the drilling rig floor of the BP Deepwater Horizon, indicating a blowout, the crew of the rig attempted to activate the blowout preventer in an attempt to shear the drill pipe and seal the well. However, the intense pressure in the well caused the drill pipe to buckle, preventing the blowout preventer from sealing the well. Residents and wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico region suffered the results with 210 million gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf’s waters for over 80 days.

In April 2016 – six years after the BP disaster – the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued a new Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule. Data recently released by Politico shows that since the passage of this rule in 2016, BSEE has issued nearly 1,700 waivers to oil companies. Nonetheless, in an effort to address industry complaints about increased costs associated with this rule, BSEE has now rolled back portions of the rule: weakening real-time monitoring of offshore operations, and watering down testing requirements for critical safety devices like blowout preventers.

The BP disaster killed 11 men and devastated Gulf communities and the environment. The environmental, economic and public health cost to this region were in the tens of billions of dollars, and we continue to feel those impacts. Clearly, more than any other area of the country, the people of the Gulf Coast have paid the price for lax safety in the oil industry.  

Now big oil and their allies in the Trump administration have successfully rolled back one of the only safety measures put in place in the wake of the BP disaster. Are we safer today than we were before BP’s blowout preventer failed 9 years ago? It seems as if any lessons we learned have been thrown out the window to protect corporate profits over the American people.

The Administration claims that changes to the Rule will save the industry about $824 million over 10 years. In contrast, the BP disaster cost the company $69 billion dollars.  Many oil and gas companies are riding high right now, so in the grand scheme the cost is just a fraction of one percent of their annual profits to increase safety and possibly avoid a BP-like disaster. In short, although the oil companies may save money upfront, they risk another multi-billion dollar disaster and devastation of coastal communities. It is deeply troubling that this administration is prioritizing big oil profits over the health, safety and economic sustainability of Gulf communities.

Oil workers and coastal communities should not have to bear the risk of oil and gas development. For a fraction of 1% of their annual profits, industry could exponentially decrease the potential of another catastrophic disaster. BSEE should be requiring more safety requirements to reduce the risk of another blowout the size of the BP Deepwater Horizon, not padding the profits of oil and gas companies at the expense of the American people.


Cyn Sarthou

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