US could relax some Obama-era offshore drilling regulations

The current USA administration has acted to relax some of the tougher offshore drilling requirements imposed in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. However, it has turned down pleas from the oil sector for bigger changes, including its request for a repeal of a strict specification for how much pressure must be maintained inside wells to keep them in check.

The proposed changes, published on Friday, include an easing of mandates for real-time monitoring of offshore operations. The current administration is seeking to expand significantly US offshore oil development, selling drilling rights of more than 90% of the US outer continental shelf.

President Trump directed the changes in an executive order last year, telling regulators to rescind or revise rules “that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”

The underlying requirements were only finalized by the Obama administration in April 2016, following recommendations from the Macondo oil well failure six years earlier.

The new proposal would not affect other post-spill reforms, including requirements for oil companies to assess risks more holistically and tougher drilling standards that were imposed in the months after the 2010 event.

Arizona Democratic Party Representative Raul Grijalva said that the move reflected “this administration’s obsession with more drilling and fewer regulations – whatever the cost”, claiming that this was “the same attitude that produced Deepwater Horizon in the first place.”

Under the new proposal, companies would still be required to conduct more frequent testing of underwater blowout preventers, swiftly report when parts fail and use a second set of shearing rams to increase the likelihood of slashing through drill pipe and helping seal an open well hole. However the safety bureau is proposing to lift a requirement that third-party vendors who test blowout preventers and other equipment be certified by the agency. The bureau also plans to eliminate a provision that requires offshore facilities to halt production whenever they are approached by lift boats that transport equipment to the sites.

Oil industry trade groups claimed that the well-control rule imposed under Obama was overly prescriptive, increased costs and in some cases could imperil safety.