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Trump Administration to Move Forward with Offshore Drilling Plan, Despite Shutdown

It appears the longest government shutdown in American history won’t affect the Trump Administration’s offshore drilling plans, after all.

Dozens Recalled to Work on Offshore Drilling Leases

Apparently, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has revised its shutdown plans and will bring back around 40 furloughed staff to work on the Administration’s 5-year offshore leasing plan for selling drilling rights in nearly all United States’ coastal waters.

The plan was to be unveiled on January 15th, but was delayed by the ongoing budget impasse.

According to Bloomberg News, an additional 11 employees are being temporarily recalled to prepare documents necessary for Gulf of Mexico lease auctions expected to take place in March and August.

Like other recently-recalled federal workers, they will remain unpaid until the budget impasse is resolved.

Oil and Gas Industry Spared Worst Impact of Government Shutdown

The Interior Department’s latest actions aren’t terribly surprising.

In fact, since the shutdown began some 28 days ago, the agency has worked to ensure that the impasse does not hinder oil and gas development, both on and offshore.

Among other things, the Department has moved forward with plans to expand oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, while the Bureau of Land Management has continued to process drilling applications.

None of this is sitting well with the Trump Administration’s critics, including some members of Congress.

“One of the most striking features of the current government shutdown, brought about entirely by the President’s insistence on building an entirely unnecessary border wall, is the way the administration has bent over backwards to ensure that the pain of the shutdown falls only on ordinary Americans and the environment, and not on the oil and gas industry,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) wrote in a letter to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt earlier this week.

Among other things, Grijalva suggested the Department was violating the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits federal agencies from spending money in advance of an appropriation.

Weakened Offshore Drilling Rules Remain Delayed

Despite the Interior Department’s efforts to accommodate the Trump Administration’s favorite industry, it does appear the shutdown will continue to delay enactment of a weakened Well Control Rule.

Finalized by the Obama Administration in 2016, the regulations included in the Well Control Rule set standards for blowout preventers and other vital safety equipment used aboard offshore drilling rigs.

The standards are intended to prevent catastrophic offshore explosions like the one that killed 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico drilling platform in April 2010.

The “reforms” are widely opposed by environmentalists and workplace safety advocates, who say they represent an industry wish list that grants oil and gas drillers too much power to self-regulate their offshore operations.

Although the White House has been reviewing the revised Well Control Rule since December 13th, personnel from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs responsible for the review are currently on furlough.

So far, the Trump Administration has not recalled any of these employees. As a result, the shutdown has delayed enactment of the revised Well Control Rule indefinitely.

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