Trump easing offshore drilling safety rules

On Thursday, the Trump administration dismantled safety rules for offshore drilling put in place by the Obama administration after the disastrous BP oil spill fouled the Gulf of Mexico nearly a decade ago.

The rollbacks are a major victory for the oil and gas industry that has criticized the Obama rules as too onerous and costly to comply with, but which supporters say have helped prevent a repeat of the accident that killed 11 workers and spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil in 2010.

“Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore," Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.

The final version of the changes to Well Control Rules come shortly after the Interior Department said it was pushing back plans to open up vast new areas of coastline for oil and gas exploration in federal waters, a move that would delay the controversial expansion until after the 2020 election.

That new rules are designed to ease drilling in places like the Gulf of Mexico, where oil production reached a record 1.9 million barrels a day at the end of last year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The new rule, which takes effect in 60 days from Friday, reduces the frequency of tests to key equipment such as blowout preventers, which sit at the wellhead at the ocean floor and are the last-ditch defense against massive gushers. It also allows drillers to use third-party companies instead of government inspectors to check equipment and gives them more time between inspections, among other things.

Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement acknowledged in the final rule that “a large majority of the approximately 118,000 comments that BSEE received voiced significant concerns about the proposed changes.”

But it defended the changes as a way to get rid of burdensome rules that it contends wouldn’t have made rigs any safer, even though it said at times that the changes were driven by industry’s worries about costs. In one example, BSEE said it was allowing companies to test blowout preventers less often because of industry complaints about the cost of such tests.

“In recent years, the industry has raised concerns related to the benefits of pressure and function testing of subsea [blowout preventers] when compared to the costs and potential operational issues associated with such testing, including wear and tear,” the agency said in the rule.