USA: Mixed reactions for proposal to change drilling rules

Steve Mashuda, managing attorney for Oceans at Earthjustice

The decision by the U.S. regulator BSEE to update oil and gas drilling regulations has been met with opposing comments from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Earthjustice.

Following the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s announcement last Friday related to proposed revisions to Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rules in a push to reduce regulatory burden, API Director of Upstream and Industry Operations Erik Milito applauded work on revising the “flawed” regulations.

Milito said: “BSEE’s decision to revise its technically flawed Well Control Rule will help to strengthen safer offshore operations. These revisions will move us forward on safety, help the government better regulate risks and better protect workers and the environment.

“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.

“Instead of locking in regulatory provisions that may actually increase risk in operations, it is critical that revisions are made that enhance the regulatory framework to ensure updated, modern, and safe technologies, best practices, and operations.”

API said that the result of its work with the Department of Interior to significantly improve capabilities to prevent, contain, and respond to a potential offshore incident included the Center for Offshore Safety, the Marine Well Containment Company, HWCG, new API standards on well containment and blowout prevention equipment, and Interior’s drilling safety rule, and safety and environmental management systems rule.

The API added that it provided recommendations back in May 2010 to Interior through its Joint Industry Task Force on ways to enhance the regulatory system, the majority of which were ultimately codified into regulation.

‘Eroding common sense safety’

Earthjustice, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to litigating environmental issues, said that the well control rule, finalized under President Obama in 2016, required real-time oversight of risky drilling operations and precautionary failsafe measures to stop a spill when things go wrong.

Interior officials began re-writing the rule after President Trump issued an executive order last year calling for offshore drilling controls regarded as a “burden” by the fossil fuel industry to be rolled back.

According to Earthjustice, the BSEE emphasized the number of provisions affected but not the substance of the protections they provide.

“While details will be clear once the proposal is issued, this rule change is clearly designed to take regulators out of the process rather than increase any oversight,” Earthjustice said.

Steve Mashuda, managing attorney for Oceans at Earthjustice, said: “History has already taught us the lesson that when the oil industry drills, it spills. The administration’s attempt to erode common sense safety and environmental protections designed to prevent another tragedy on the scale of Deepwater Horizon is deeply troubling. With Interior’s ongoing push for more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and its proposal to open virtually every mile of coastline to new oil and gas rigs, now is not the time to tinker with safety and environmental standards.”

He added: “Americans deserve better than this dangerous and unnecessary race to expose our coastal communities and treasured marine environments to the risk of devastating oil spills. Our energy future lies in clean, renewable energy, not at the bottom of the ocean — and not at the bottom of the regulatory barrel.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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