Speed Reads

Breaking the Rules

The Trump administration reportedly wants to scrap post-Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rules

For 87 days in the spring and summer of 2010, a breached well under the Deepwater Horizon oil rig let more than 200 million gallons of crude oil gush freely into the Gulf of Mexico, in the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the worst marine oil spill on record. The initial April 20 explosion on the rig also killed 11 people. After five years of research and outside input, the Obama administration enacted well-control rules to prevent another such blowout. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, the Trump administration wants to roll back many of those offshore-drilling rules, arguing that the industry should have more control over its own safeguards.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which regulates offshore oil and gas drilling, says its proposed rule changes would save the oil industry more than $900 million over the next decade. Among the changes noted by the Journal, the BSEE would ease rules that require oil production facilities to stream real-time data onshore, where regulators can currently access it; scrap a rule that only BSEE-certified inspectors monitor critical equipment like the blowout preventer that malfunctioned in the Deepwater Horizon debacle; and eliminate the word "safe" in rules regulators use to weigh drilling applications, because "safe" is redundant and could lead agency staff to exceed its authority.

The proposed regulatory rollback would give industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute, the Offshore Operators Committee, and the National Ocean Industries Association most of what they've sought from the Trump administration. Current BSEE director Scott Angelle — "a longtime advocate for the Gulf Coast oil industry," the Journal notes — argues that the Obama BSEE was too broad in its review and that the oil industry learned from the steep economic costs BP endured because of its Deepwater Horizon spill. You can read more about Deepwater Horizon at the Smithsonian's interactive site and more about the proposed rule changes at The Wall Street Journal.