For Immediate Release,
November 19, 2020
WASHINGTON— The Trump administration today announced a rule to weaken offshore drilling safety rules specially designed for the Arctic’s hazardous, remote waters. It’s the administration’s third major rollback of offshore safety regulations created by the Obama administration after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The proposed drilling safety rollbacks come as Trump officials move to rush through oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas before leaving office in January. Trump also tried to rescind President Obama’s permanent protection of unleased waters in the Chukchi and parts of the Beaufort seas from oil drilling. But he was blocked by the courts last year in a ruling now being reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Demolishing offshore safety rules on the way out the door shows the Trump administration’s ugly contempt for workers and wildlife,” said Kristen Monsell, ocean legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Ignoring the Arctic’s harsh and unforgiving conditions will lead to disaster. There’s no way to make offshore drilling safe. But these reckless rollbacks will make it much more dangerous.”
The Arctic safety rule being rolled back requires work plans to address harsh conditions and locate secondary drilling rigs and other safety equipment on site, rather than at staging areas hundreds of miles away. The rule was adopted in 2016 after a Shell Oil drilling rig ran aground while being towed through rough Arctic waters.
The Trump administration completed an earlier rollback of offshore drilling safety rules in 2018, ending a requirement for third-party inspections of offshore drilling safety equipment and other protections. Last year it also weakened the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule,” which was created to prevent uncontrollable oil spills like Deepwater Horizon. That rollback faced a court challenge from the Center and other groups.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 oil workers and spewed more than 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over nearly three months, killing thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles and birds. Federal investigators determined that a defective blowout preventer was one of the causes.
“Ignoring the lessons of Deepwater Horizon will mean more catastrophic oil spills,” Monsell said. “A spill in the Arctic would be impossible to contain and clean up. Polar bears and other endangered animals would be in terrible danger and might never recover.”