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Trump Looks to Gut More Offshore Safety Regulations on His Way Out the Door

The Trump administration is making a last-ditch effort to gut even more vital offshore safety regulations before the president leaves office in January.

Latest Trump Rollbacks Target Arctic Offshore Drilling

This time, the administration is targeting rules that specifically apply to offshore drilling in the Arctic, all of which were enacted by the Obama administration after the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The regulations were aimed at requiring operating procedures that would better guard against an uncontrolled oil spill like the Gulf spill, because if such a spill happened in the remote, ice-covered, stormy Arctic, it could not be cleaned up and would be even worse than in the temperate, infrastructure-adjacent waters of the Gulf,” Erik Grafe with Earthjustice said in a statement to The Hill.

While the Trump administration argues the rollbacks are necessary to counter Russian interests in the region, there’s little chance the proposal will ever be finalized, given the mandated 60-day public comment period. Once that period expires, the U.S. Department of Interior would need to respond to comments before implementing any changes.

President-Elect Joe Biden will be sworn in on January 20th, which is just 56 days away. His administration will likely rescind the proposal before that could happen.

Trump Has Already Gutted Other Deepwater Horizon-Inspired Rules

This isn’t the first time the current president has sought to reverse offshore drilling regulations put in place by President Obama. In fact, the Trump administration successfully gutted the Well Control Rule, another set of regulations enacted after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Those revisions were finalized in May 2019 and altered the Well Control Rule 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  • Grandfathered existing drilling rigs into outdated blowout preventer standards.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.

At the time, the Trump administration argued that the regulatory rollback would save offshore drillers $10 billion over a decade without compromising safety. Scott Angelle, the current head of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), had previously lobbied against the Obama-era rules on behalf of the industry and was highly critical of the previous administration’s regulatory response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. During the rulemaking process, he overruled objections from the BSEE’s career experts and ordered those engineers to delete any mention of their objections from memos.

Not surprisingly, the Trump administration’s final Well Control Rule included many changes suggested by industry players, including a proposal to eliminate real-time monitoring of offshore operations.

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