The Trump administration said Thursday it would roll back several major regulations meant to safeguard offshore drilling rigs, ending a bevy of safety measures put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Interior Department announced the newly revised Well Control Rule as part of President Donald Trump’s effort to expand offshore drilling and U.S. “energy dominance.” Under the rules, oil companies will be required to safety test devices meant to stop leaks for only 5 minutes every 21 days, far less frequently than in the past. The plan will also end mandatory reporting of some of those tests to the Interior Department.
“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common sense way,” newly confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhard said in a statement Thursday. “Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”
Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist who faced a tough confirmation battle over his coziness with the fossil fuel industry, noted the new policies were part of Trump’s effort to make America an energy production leader “resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”
The changes prompted an immediate outcry from environmental groups who worry they would open the door to yet another disaster like Deepwater Horizon.
“The well control rule was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea,” Bob Deans, the director of strategic engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “If the Trump administration’s final rule weakens these protections, as its proposed changes did, it will put our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. That’s irresponsible, reckless and wrong.”
Deepwater Horizon disaster
Deepwater Horizon disaster
9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico
Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this handout photograph taken on April 21, 2010 and obtained on April 22. Eleven workers were missing and 17 injured in an explosion at the Transocean oil drilling rig, and crews were fighting the fire 16 hours later, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Wednesday. An estimated 126 people were aboard the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion. Picture taken April 21, 2010. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENERGY IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
FILE - In this April 21, 2010, file photo, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion that killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history. As the Trump administration rolls back environmental and safety rules for the U.S. energy sector, government projections show billions of dollars in savings reaped by companies will come at a steep cost: increased premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, a jump in climate-warming emissions and more derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
FILE - In this aerial file photo taken Wednesday, April 21, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, an oil slick is seen as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns. The oil rig, which erupted in flames March 20, 2010, and is at the center of a massive spill off the Louisiana coast, has a history of minor incidents attributed to equipment failure, human error and bad weather during its nine-year operating history, according to official records.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)
Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise in a process known as flaring, in the Gulf of Mexico, May 16, 2010. Gas and oil from the wellhead are being brought to the surface via a tube that was placed inside the damaged pipe. Picture taken May 16, 2010. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Patrick Kelley/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT ENERGY IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Crews conduct overflights of controlled burns taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, in this photograph taken on May 19, 2010 and released on May 20. During controlled burns, oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident is burned in an effort to reduce the amount of oil in the water. Picture taken May 19. REUTERS/Chief Petty Officer John Kepsimelis/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT DISASTER IMAGES OF THE DAY) QUALITY FROM SOURCE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
FILE - In this Wednesday, April 21, 2010 file photo, oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. Big Oil's legacy in Louisiana _ an industry long blamed for causing land loss in the coast _ is now in dispute like never before. What's changed is the person in the governor's mansion: After eight years of Republican rule, a Democrat is in the mansion.(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
FILE - This April 21, 2010, file photo, shows a large plume of smoke rising from BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials say more than $100 million from a settlement after the 2010 spill has been spent on restoring Texas coastal habitat. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
Oil is burned off the surface of the water near the source of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana June 19, 2010. Propellers from the airplane are visible in the photo. REUTERS/Lee Celano (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT ENERGY BUSINESS)
FILE - In this May 24, 2010, file photo, a contractor operates an oil skimmer near a marsh impacted from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Pass a Loutre, La. Environmental activists Karen Savage and Cherri Foytlin wrote an article criticizing a company that published a study finding no connection between chemicals released by the explosion and health problems reported by some cleanup workers. Massachusetts' highest court will hear arguments Oct. 7, 2016, in a bid by Savage and Foytlin to throw out a defamation lawsuit filed by the company, siting a state law that protects citizens exercising their free speech rights. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 22: Response boats work to clean up oil where the Deepwater Horizon oilrig sank April 22, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.. The mobile offshore drilling platform was engulfed in flames after an explosion April 20. The Coast Guard continues to search for the 11 missing workers. (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)
This November 2010 photo, taken in the Gulf of Mexico, shows an overview of the Mississippi Canyon 294 coral community that was discovered in November, 2010 to have been damaged during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In the foreground is a large colony of the octocoral Paragorgia, with numerous, smaller, yellow Paramuricea coral colonies with symbiotic brittle stars in the background. The photo was taken via a remote operating vehicle (ROV), at 1390 meters (4500 feet) depth, in the Mississippi Canyon 294 lease block, approximately 10 miles from the site of the former Deepwater Horizon and 130 miles southeast of New Orleans, La. (Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER, and BOEM, via AP)
FILE - In this June 3, 2010, file photo, a Brown Pelican sits on the beach at East Grand Terre Island on the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A federal judge in New Orleans granted final approval on Monday, April 4, 2016, to an estimated $20 billion settlement, resolving years of litigation over the spill. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, June 6, 2010 file photo, a small oil-covered fish floats on the water's surface at Bay Long off the coast of Louisiana following a deadly April 20, 2010 explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore platform. The office that processes claims for businesses and people who suffered economic losses from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill says it has approved payments totaling $8.5 billion as of June 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Sand is cleaned at a deep cleaning operation in Orange Beach, Ala., Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010. With its Macondo well dead and few visitors on the coast during the offseason, BP has launched its biggest push yet to deep-clean the tourist beaches that were coated with crude during the worst of the Gulf oil spill. Machines are digging down into the sand to remove buried tar mats left from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Under the new regulations, oil companies will no longer be required to hire third-party safety inspectors to test the equipment meant to prevent leaks, known as blowout preventers. That same device failed during the BP spill.
“This progress goes hand-in-hand with the proposed revisions to a number of offshore regulations to ensure that smarter and more effective regulations are constantly evolving, as we move forward with safe and responsible offshore development,” Eric Milito, the vice president for offshore operations at the American Petroleum Institute, told Reuters.