A coalition of ten environmental groups is suing the Trump administration for rolling back offshore safety regulations in the US.
They are taking this legal action in response to the weakening of the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule, established in 2016 in the aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The rule requires upgrades to drilling practices and technologies, regular tests of safety equipment and inspectors completely independent from the oil and gas industry.
In May 2019, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) removed what it described as “unnecessary regulatory burdens” from the rule, including eliminating standards for critical safety components and allowing oil and gas companies to determine for themselves which safety measures to adopt.
These changes follow proposals from the BSEE in January 2019 and come as the Trump administration is pursuing offshore drilling operations along the Outer Continental Shelf despite criticism from coastal towns and government officials.
The lawsuit also accuses the BSEE of engaging in “covert rulemaking” through its alleged use of information it did not disclose to the public, as well as violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately consider the environmental effects of these repeals.
Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton told Offshore Technology: “Earthjustice and other groups filed this lawsuit to hold BSEE accountable to its crucial responsibility to ensure safety and environmental protection.
“The well control rollback eliminates critical, common-sense safety measures. And BSEE enacted the rollback without actually considering its effect on safety or the environment. The agency shouldn’t be rolling the dice when it comes to offshore drilling safety.”
Reporting from US journalism company Politico also revealed that the BSEE, under the Trump administration, has issued 1,700 waivers to oil and gas companies exempting them from the rule.
In a statement, Eaton said: “It’s clear that drilling practices, equipment design, and regulatory oversight were all seriously lacking when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred — that it was imperative to address those problems. It is equally clear that the Well Control Rule made significant safety improvements and reduced the risk of another Deepwater Horizon occurring.
“The oil industry’s desire to make an extra buck doesn’t somehow put it above the law or justify slashing safety requirements and putting people’s lives at risk. Scott Angelle’s efforts to gut the Well Control Rule and send us back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days of offshore safety are setting us up for another preventable disaster that could result in oil washing up on your local beach.”
The Trump administration has also been criticised for rescinding methane regulation rules in September 2018, which according to estimates from the US Bureau of Land Management could increase methane emissions by 1.78 million tons over a ten-year period.