Skip to Main Content

When Big Oil Wanted to Gut Offshore Drilling Regulations, Trump Delivered

Offshore Safety Rules Repealed Due to Pressure from Big Oil Companies

Newly released emails are highlighting the extent to which Big Oil influenced the Trump administration’s controversial decision to gut vital offshore drilling regulations enacted in the wake of the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Offshore Regulatory Rollback Part of “Energy Dominance” Agenda

The regulations – known collectively as the Well Control Rule — set standards for blowout preventers, a vital piece of safety equipment that failed on the Deepwater Horizon.  As originally written, the regulations also required offsite, real-time monitoring of offshore drilling operations and independent, third-party inspections of offshore equipment.

The Trump administration made clear its intention to pursue an “Energy Dominance” agenda shortly after the President took office in January 2017, including a plan to greatly expand offshore drilling along the nation’s coasts. By December of that year, the administration had signaled its intention to target the Well Control Rule, promising that the regulatory rollback would save offshore drillers $10 billion over a decade without compromising safety. The proposal was formally announced in May 2018 and finalized a year later.

The revised Well Control Rule altered the regulations in four key areas:

  • Weakened performance requirements for blowout preventers.
  • Eliminated the system of independent safety equipment inspectors.
  • Grandfathered existing drilling rigs into outdated blowout preventer standards.
  • Slashed safety equipment testing and inspection standards.

Trump Administration’s Cozy Relationship with Offshore Drillers

The fact that Big Oil had the ear of the Trump administration was never a secret. In fact, Scott Angelle, the current head of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), had actually lobbied against the Well Control Rule on behalf of the industry and was highly critical of the Obama administration’s regulatory response to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Even before finalizing the revised Well Control Rule, the Trump administration was routinely granting waivers that exempted offshore drillers from its most important provisions. During the rulemaking process, Angelle not only overruled objections from the agency’s career experts, but ordered those engineers to delete any mention of their objections from memos pertaining to the rollback.

Now newly released emails obtained by are shedding even more light on the industry’s successful efforts to influence the Trump administration’s handling of the Well Control Rule. In the exchange from May 2017,  a representative of the American Petroleum Institute (API) writing on behalf of six other industry groups told top officials at the Department of the Interior that they “did not see the need” for the regulations to include oversight from the agency and requested that whole sections of the Well Control Rule be eliminated.

Interior Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason thanked the groups for their feedback in response to the request. But Daniel Jorjani ― a Trump appointee later named the Interior Department’s top lawyer ― emailed back just one word: “Agreed.”

Trump’s Final Well Control Rule Included Industry-Sought Rollbacks

The Trump administration’s final Well Control Rule included many of the changes the industry groups had suggested, including the proposal to eliminate real-time monitoring of offshore operations. The API’s point person for winning that particular concession was Katharine MacGregor, who at the time was Interior’s acting assistant secretary for lands and minerals management, and who has since become the agency’s deputy secretary. According to, MacGregor not only has deep ties to the offshore industry, but has had at least 62 meetings with industry groups pushing for increased drilling access since joining the Department.

The Trump administration’s campaign against the Well Control Rule has coincided with a recent uptick in offshore injuries and oil spills. In fact, critics warn that the regulatory rollback has made the nation’s fleet of offshore oil rigs as vulnerable as they were when the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in April 2010.

Elizabeth Johnson Klein, the Interior Department’s associate deputy secretary under President Obama, told that industry criticism of the Well Control Rule was nothing new and well known to those who originally developed the regulations.

“We just opted to move forward on the side of responsible and safe development, understanding in particular the lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the numerous recommendations made in the wake of that tragedy to improve oversight of offshore oil and gas activities,” she said.

Call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here for a Free Consult with Our Undefeated Offshore Injury Lawyers

Our Undefeated Maritime Lawyers have won billions offshore workers in Texas, Louisiana, and across the United States, including the largest maritime and Jones Act verdicts and settlements in history.

If you or someone you love were injured or tragically killed in an offshore accident or explosion, please call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form.

Your consultation is free, and you’ll pay nothing unless we win your case.