The Trump administration is floating the possibility of rolling back a slew of regulations foisted on offshore oil drillers shortly after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.
Rolling back the rules could save the energy industry nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years and help reverse some measures companies considered too burdensome, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which regulates offshore energy development.
BSEE’s proposal would also nix a provision requiring independent inspectors of critical equipment be certified by the agency. It could potentially affect inspections on items like the equipment that failed in the Deepwater Horizon case.
The rule change is predicated on the belief that systemic problems within the oil industry were not the primary cause of the 2010 oil disaster, which killed 11 workers on the drilling rig and spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Regulators with the Trump administration believe whatever problems existed at the time were fixed by market forces.
“It was obvious to me that back then there was a conclusion that it was a systemic problem, and yet I don’t believe there was evidence at the time that it was a systemic problem,” BSEE’s current director, Scott Angelle, told reporters in June. The Obama administration’s regulatory treatment of the case was way too broad, he added at the time.
Industry officials will get most of what they want – a reduction of what they call stultifying rules – but won’t get everything requested. BSEE is proposing leaving in place a standard for how much pressure drillers must maintain atop a well to prevent a blowout.
Their proposal comes as the Trump administration continues bringing down regulatory barriers in other areas of the energy industry. The tax overhaul Trump signed earlier this month includes a provision opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production, a goal environmentalist oppose but Republicans have long sought.
The industry requested eliminating a specified “drilling margin,” referring to the minimum amount of mud and fluid that must sit over a well as it is being drilled, to guard against a surge in pressure that could lead to a possible blowout. Industry groups say the need for flexibility in drilling techniques requires a light touch hand on rules.
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