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Environmental Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Weakened Offshore Drilling Regulations

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Several environmental groups headed to court this week, seeking to stop the Trump administration from gutting offshore drilling regulations enacted in the wake of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Weakened Offshore Drilling Regulations Endanger Workers

In a complaint filed yesterday in California federal court, the coalition claimed the U.S. Department of Interior ignored evidence, disregarded scientific findings, and lacked transparency when it revised and rescinded many of the provisions included in the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule, a compilation of vital offshore drilling regulations only enacted in 2016.

“On the Gulf Coast, these safety standards have very real implications for workers, the environment and our coastal economy,” Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf, said in a statement announcing the filing. “This administration claims the cost is a ‘burden’ to one of the most profitable industries in the world. That is not a sound justification to rollback these necessary safeguards enacted to prevent another catastrophic blowout like the BP disaster.”

Other environmental groups taking part in the court challenge include Earthjustice, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council,  and the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, North Carolina Coastal Federation, and South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.

Well Control Rule Set Standards for Blowout Preventers

The Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explosion killed 11 workers, injured 17 others, and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. During the ensuing six years, the Obama administration worked to strengthen offshore drilling regulations in a bid to prevent similar disasters.

Many of the Well Control Rule’s provisions set standards for blowout preventers, a vital piece of safety equipment that seals a well in the event of an uncontrolled release of oil and gas. Others, however, require real-time monitoring of drilling operations and third-party equipment inspections.

The Trump administration announced its intention to gut the Well Control Rule soon after the President took office. At the same time, it sought to open the Atlantic, Pacific. and Arctic coasts to energy exploration and production.

Environmental Coalition Seeks to Stop 4 Key Rollbacks

The Interior Department finally unveiled the revised Well Control Rule in April. Many of the changes were sought by industry, which considered the offshore drilling regulations burdensome and unnecessary.  According to the Interior Department, the new rules will save drillers at least $1 billion over 10 years.

The environmental coalition behind the lawsuit is challenging four key Trump administration rollbacks:

  • Weakening performance requirements for blowout preventers
  • Eliminating the system of independent safety equipment inspectors
  • Grandfathering existing drilling rigs into outdated blowout preventer standards
  • Slashing safety equipment testing and inspection standards

“Removing airbags and seatbelts from cars doesn’t make them safer. Likewise, erasing the safety rules put in place after Deepwater Horizon makes risky offshore drilling more dangerous,” said Catherine Wannamaker of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “This Trump administration rollback makes no sense.”

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