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Trump Appointees Overruled Experts on Offshore Drilling Regulations

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President Trump’s political appointees at the Interior Department apparently overruled career experts in pushing to gut the Well Control Rule, a set of offshore regulations put in place after the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

Well Control Rule Set Standards for Blow Preventers, Equipment Inspections, Real-Time Well Monitoring

The April 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion tragically killed 11 offshore workers, injured 17 others, and polluted the Gulf of Mexico and its shoreline with millions of gallons of crude oil. Hoping to head off similar disasters in the future, the Obama administration introduced the Well Control Rule six years later.

Some of the rule’s most important 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. The failure of the blowout preventer was found to be a major contributor to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

The Well Control Rule also required offsite, real-time monitoring of drilling operations and independent, third-party inspections of offshore equipment.

Trump Appointee Deleted Staff Objections from Well Control Rule Memos

As part of its “Energy First Policy,” the Trump administration announced plans to gut the Well Control Rule shortly after the President took office in January 2017. The weakened regulations were introduced in April 2018, with the administration insisting that the regulatory rollback would save offshore drillers $10 billion over a decade without compromising safety.

According to a stunning new report from The Wall Street Journal, the Interior Department’s career experts were less enthusiastic, and advised the administration against altering the Well Control Rule’s provisions related to the frequency of equipment testing. They also disagreed with the plan to eliminate the requirement for third-party monitoring, challenging industry assertions that well pressure could be sufficiently monitored by those working on a rig.

Obviously, their concerns were ignored. But even worse, Scott Angelle, Trump’s industry friendly pick to head up the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), reportedly ordered those engineers to delete any mention of their objections from memos detailing the planned regulatory rollback.

Congressional Committee Seeks Well Control Rule Documents

The Journal’s revelations drew swift reaction in Congress, where House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-A.Z.) sent a letter asking the BSEE  for documents related to the Well Control Rule changes, including communications between career leadership and staff.

“As the Journal shows, this administration is willing to create rules favorable to a specific industry and manufacture the appearance of support from career staff and agency experts,” he wrote. “This raises the question of whether DOI political appointees have interfered in other rulemakings or doctored the administrative record in other instances,”

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