The Interior Department just revised a series of Obama-era regulations governing offshore oil and gas drilling — and environmentalists are hopping mad.
Recently, green groups including the Sierra Club and EarthJustice filed a lawsuit against Interior’s update. These groups claim the Trump administration is “softening” and “relaxing” safety standards.
That’s not true. The revision simply cuts redundant federal regulations, making it easier for private offshore companies to manage risks, and the department deserves applause for boosting workers’ economic opportunities.
As many as 90 billion barrels of oil and 328 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie buried in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf — the federally owned land beneath the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. To collect these energy riches, oil and gas firms use offshore rigs or platforms to drill wells into the ocean floor.
Interior’s update eliminates bureaucratic red tape around this process. The revision gets rid of redundant tests on wells and blowout preventers, the specialized valves that quickly seal wells to prevent oil spills. Without these repetitive tests, offshore workers have more time to focus on other, more effective safety measures.
Over the past decade, the offshore industry published over 100 new or updated rules for offshore exploration and production. In 2011 the sector also created the Center for Offshore Safety, which analyzes potential safety hazards, facilitates third-party audits of offshore procedures, and constantly shares safety performance data to prevent future incidents. And in 2010, the industry formed two rapid-response organizations comprising offshore operators. These groups, capable of responding to threats thousands of feet underwater, share their resources with the entire industry.
Blowout-preventer technology in particular has undergone major updates over the past few years. The newest equipment is easier to operate and more powerful. One system uses 4D “digital fingerprinting” technology to inspect valves without disassembling them. Additionally, workers who used to manually collect data can now access that data digitally in real time.
And contrary to the green movement’s doomsday rhetoric, the revised rule keeps 80 percent of the original regulations intact. It just gets rid of excessive red tape that did little to improve safety.
New technology and industry standards have made Obama-era offshore regulations obsolete. The Interior Department’s revised rule wisely leaves certain offshore safety decisions to the professionals on the ground — or rather, on the rigs.