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Trump Administration Approves Hundreds of Waivers to Offshore Drilling Regulations

The Trump Administration routinely exempts offshore drillers from vital safety regulations inspired by the catastrophic explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig almost a decade ago.

Offshore Drillers Won Nearly 1,700 Waivers to Well Control Rule

The Obama Administration enacted the regulations, known collectively as the “Well Control Rule”,  in July 2016, just six months before President Trump took office.

By March 2018, however, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) had already approved nearly 1,700 one-time waivers that allowed offshore drilling operations to avoid compliance with many of its most important provisions.

“Are these rules becoming meaningless under the Trump administration?” Lois Epstein, a civil engineer who focuses on drilling issues for The Wilderness Society, said in an interview with Politico.

“It sounds like the regulators have decided that they are going to move toward waivers rather than looking at whether the rule could be made to work as intended,” she added.

Offshore Drilling Waiver Process Leaves Public in the Dark

The Well Control Rule does permit drillers to request waivers. The BSEE, however, does not track waiver requests or make them public.

“Right now, the public is in the dark about when and why these departures are being granted, and no set of criteria exists for whether a departure can be granted,” Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana, told Politico.” Given the industry’s documented deficient safety culture, the status quo creates opportunities for side-stepping rules that are vital to protecting human and environmental health and safety.”

Many of the Well Control Rule’s 53 provisions focus on the blowout preventer systems used aboard offshore platforms to avert an uncontrolled release of oil and gas from a well.

A faulty blowout preventer led to the  Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 offshore workers and injured 17 others in April 2010. Yet nearly 1/3 of the waivers granted since July 2016 allowed drillers to deviate from rules that govern the testing and inspection of this vital safety equipment.

Others permitted non-standard compliance with well casing testing and well cementing requirements.

In 18 cases, the BSEE exempted companies from a rule that prohibited welding while gas and oil continued to flow on a rig, even though that very scenario led to a deadly explosion that killed three workers aboard a Black Elk Energy offshore platform in 2012.

Trump Administration Finalizing Weakened Well Control Rule

The Trump Administration has worked to undermine offshore drilling regulations since the President’s first day in office.  In fact, the BSEE will soon finalize a new Well Control Rule that rescinds or weakens many of its most important provisions.

The Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing the revised Well Control Rule. Once that review is complete, many of the exemptions granted by the BSEE in recent years will become permanent policy.

Although the Trump Administration insists its new Well Control Rule won’t compromise safety, critics charge that the revisions grant offshore drillers too much power to self-regulate their operations.

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