New Offshore Drilling Rules a Late Response to 2010 Gulf Spill

Jewell is confident the offshore drilling rule will stand. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

The Department of the Interior unveiled new regulations on offshore drilling rigs Thursday over objections from the oil and gas industry. The rules are a long-awaited response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The new regulations will set standards for blowout preventers, a technology that failed in the case of the 2010 disaster. They will also require onshore monitoring for high-risk rigs, and mandate that the department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have access to monitoring facilities.

The rules will require rigs to use some technologies and best practices that have already been adopted by much of the industry, including the use of double shear rams, which increase the probability that blowout preventers will be able to cut off the drill pipe if there’s a leak.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called the regulations “among the most significant safety and environmental protection reforms that the department has launched,” in a conference call with reporters.

It took nearly six years to propose the final rules, Jewell said, because of the complexity of what went wrong with the Deepwater Horizon spill. “It takes a long time,” she said. “We have increased the resources, increased the capability, worked with industries to push them on capacity for addressing the worst of the worst situations.”

Jewell said the department coordinated thoroughly with industry leaders.  The oil and gas lobby still criticized the rule for being too costly.

The department estimates the regulations will lead to more than $656 million in benefits to the industry over the next 10 years, thanks to fewer oil spills and deaths to rig workers.

Still, the American Petroleum Institute warned that the additional red tape would cost offshore producers. Erik Milito, API’s director for upstream and industry operations, told reporters in a conference call on Wednesday that “the narrow, duplicative requirements included in the proposal … could stifle innovation and delay implementation of new technologies that can improve safety and operations.”

Milito noted that since the Deepwater Horizon spill, the oil and gas industry has published more than 100 standards for well design, blowout prevention and other safety measures. Those standards aren’t mandatory, however. It also established the Center for Offshore Safety.

Among lawmakers, the new regulations didn’t exactly please everyone, although for different reasons. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in February introduced an amendment to the Senate’s wide-ranging energy bill requiring the agency to hold off on this new rule until it held more meetings with industry stakeholders.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, lauded the new standards but said he still doesn’t think offshore drilling is safe enough, saying in a statement, “I feel like every time a company starts a new well, we’re playing Russian roulette with our oceans.”

Jewell said she was confident the rule would withstand any attempts by congressional Republicans to block it.

“We’re in communication with people on both sides of the aisle on a bicameral basis,” Jewell said. “They’re aware of the work we’ve done on this rule, and we’re confident that it will stand.”

Morning Consult