U.S. senators urge Zinke to abandon rollback of offshore drilling rules

A number of U.S. senators are opposing the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections for offshore oil and gas drilling operations.

DoI Secretary Ryan Zinke - Image by Gage Skidmore
DoI Secretary Ryan Zinke – Image by Gage Skidmore/Flickr – Shared under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

U.S. Sens. from Oregon Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley last Friday joined their Senate colleagues in opposing the Trump administration’s proposed rollback of environmental regulations that enhance the safety of offshore drilling operations.

To remind, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in late April proposed to update regulations covering offshore oil and gas drilling operations, claiming that the regulation updates would improve reliability, safety, efficiency, and environmental stewardship as well as reduce unnecessary burdens on operators.

The Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule, which was finalized in 2016, set minimum standards that the oil and gas industry must meet when conducting drilling operations.

The proposed revisions for the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule was submitted to the Federal Register on April 27 for publication to open the 60-day public comment period.

The bureau analyzed all 342 provisions of the 2016 Well Control Final Rule, and determined that 59 of those provisions – less than 18% – were appropriate for proposed updating and revision.

The proposed revisions would amend the testing protocol for blowout preventers, modify capability requirements for remotely operated vehicles, remove duplicative verification requirements, and codify recent revisions to industry standards.

The proposal was met with mixed reactions from different organizations. The American Petroleum Institute applauded the work while the U.S. environmental organization Earthjustice claimed that the rule change was “clearly designed to take regulators out of the process rather than increase any oversight.”

Senators: Roll-back irresponsible and dangerous

In a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the senators wrote that administration’s proposal would erode key safety and environmental regulations, which require the oil and gas industry to meet minimum standards when drilling. Those essential standards reduce the risk of spills, minimizing environmental impact, the senators said.

In their letter to Zinke, the senators wrote: “Rolling back these critical protections is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous. Your proposed rollback of the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule is not in the best interest of workers, taxpayers, and the environment. Instead of throwing out common-sense safeguards, we should be working to incorporate more lessons learned from tragedies like Deepwater Horizon to improve safety, oil spill prevention, and response.”

“We urge you to abandon this proposal to weaken the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule and instead focus on prioritizing the health and safety of our economy and our environment.”

Wyden and Merkley were joined by the following senators in signing onto the letter: Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Tom Carper, D-Del., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.

Offshore Energy Today Staff