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Trump Orders Easing Safety Rules Implemented After Gulf Oil Spill


April 28, 2017

Source: The New York Times

Just past the seventh anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, President Trump on Friday directed the Interior Department to “reconsider” several safety regulations on offshore drilling implemented after one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history.


A Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground off a small island near Kodiak Island in 2013. The Obama administration banned offshore drilling off some portions of the Atlantic and Alaskan coasts. Credit Sara Francis/U.S. Coast Guard, via Associated PressFriday’s executive order was aimed at rolling back the Obama administration’s attempts to ban oil drilling off the southeastern Atlantic and Alaskan coasts. It would erase or narrow the boundaries of some federally-protected marine sanctuaries, opening them up to commercial fishing and oil drilling.

But Mr. Trump also took aim at regulations on oil-rig safety. In the final years of the Obama administration, the Interior Department implemented several new rules aimed at improving the safety of specific pieces of offshore drilling equipment that had failed during the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and were found to have been responsible for the deadly BP oil rig explosion that caused that spill.

The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon killed 11, set off a weeks-long crisis for the Obama administration and spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea.

Among other directives, the order instructs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review an Obama administration plan that delineated where offshore drilling could and could not take place between 2017 to 2022. The plan put the entire southeast Atlantic coast and large portions of the Arctic Ocean off limits to drilling.

On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump repeatedly vowed to open up vast swaths of American lands and waters to oil and gas drilling, which he has touted as a major job creator. Mr. Zinke said that the review process did not guarantee that all those areas would be opened up to drilling, but noted that they would come under review.

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“There’s no set goal. But if there’s areas that are acceptable, that have resources, and local communities are for it and states are for it we could include it in next five-year plan,” Mr. Zinke said in a conference call with reporters.

The order also appears designed to roll back a permanent ban placed by President Barack Obama on offshore drilling off some portions of the Atlantic and Alaskan coasts, but that move is expected to be met with immediate legal challenges.

Friday’s order will also direct Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary — who has jurisdiction over marine sanctuaries — to conduct a review of all such sanctuaries created over the past 10 years, and not to create any new sanctuaries during that review period.

The most likely targets of that review will be major protected marine parks created or enlarged by Mr. Obama. Last year, Mr. Obama created the largest marine sanctuary on the planet, enlarging the boundaries of the Papahanaumokuakea park near Hawaii.

Also last year, the Obama administration unveiled a set of regulations on offshore oil and gas drilling equipment, intended to tighten the safety requirements on underwater drilling equipment and well-control operations. In particular, the new rules tighten controls on blowout preventers, the industry-standard devices that are the last line of protection to stop explosions in undersea oil and gas wells.

The 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig was caused in part by the buckling of a section of drill pipe, prompting the malfunction of a supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer on a BP well.

It appears that those rules may be targeted in Mr. Trump’s new order. But when questioned on which specific equipment regulations would be reviewed, Mr. Zinke simply replied that the review would apply ”from bow to stern.”

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