Admin loosens protections created after Deepwater Horizon disaster

The Trump administration is eliminating parts of a rule meant to protect the environment and worker safety that was passed in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

That spill was one of the worst in US history, killing 11 people and dumping millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, polluting over 1,300 miles of shoreline, killing wildlife and hurting human health. In the lawsuit that followed, a federal judge said the companies involved in the spill were “grossly negligent” in the runup to the disaster.

The changes to the Well Control Rule were announced Thursday at Port Fourchon, Louisiana, in the heart of offshore oil drilling country.

“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common-sense way,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist. “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. Under President Trump’s leadership, America is a leader on energy, resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”

The Department of the Interior said that the move leaves 80% of the rule unchanged but that the changes are meant to give the industry more flexibility about how it can meet safety standards spelled out in the rule.

The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association for the oil and gas industry, said in August that it liked the proposed change, calling it a “forward” step on safety that would “better protect workers and the environment.”

Critics say the administration is doing the industry’s bidding instead of protecting the environment.

“Gutting the far too few offshore drilling safeguards that were established in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster is reckless and wrong,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director of Oceana. The nonpartisan nonprofit released a report in April that said that even with the Obama-era rules in place, there were still “alarming unaddressed deficiencies” in US offshore oil drilling.

“Today’s announcement is a major step backward in offshore drilling safety. Our government shouldn’t be catering to the demands of the oil industry at the expense of our public and environmental safety,” Hoskins said Thursday. “More drilling and less safety is a recipe for disaster.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, criticized the move as an example of the administration being “overly familiar” with the industry.

“The well control rule (under the Obama administration) was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea. The rule draws directly from lessons learned from that debacle,” Bob Deans, the council’s director of strategic engagement, said in a statement. Deans said the rollback “will put our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. That’s irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”

The United States is the world’s largest exporter of refined petroleum products, but the rule changes fit with the administration’s big push for more, to achieve “American energy dominance.” Trump has also advocated for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on public lands and in waters off the East Coast, and approved the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.