January 9, 2019 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

Shortly after the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig, we heard over and over again about the blowout preventer. Because it failed, oil from the rig contaminated 1,300 miles of shoreline and caused billions in dollars of physical, emotional, and economic harm to individuals and their communities.

The Trump administration is on the verge of rolling back blowout preventer (BOP) regulations. The  final rule that would implement the rollback is undergoing final review at the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It’s justification: to “unleash the economy by cutting regulations.”

The administration asserts that eliminating the Obama-era blowout preventer rules will save the oil/gas industry $98.6 million annually over ten years. What a stunning example of penny wise, pound foolish. The Deepwater Horizon disaster cost the Gulf coast communities more than $22 billion alone in lost tourism through 2013.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) compares the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) current regulations for blowout preventers with the changes that would gut them. POGO dissects more than a dozen of the proposed changes, including those requiring certification of BOP capabilities and independent verification, real-time monitoring of conditions at a well, and disaster preparedness and oil-spill response contingency planning.

For example, POGO explains that under the current BSEE regulation, a component of the BOP must “achieve an effective seal.” The Trump administration’s change would merely require the component “to close.”

As POGO notes:

“Closing one of a BOP’s components is not necessarily the same as achieving an effective seal. (If it was, why bother to change the wording?) If part of the BOP closes but doesn’t stop the flow of oil or gas, or if it stops the flow only temporarily, a runaway oil spill could result.”

I couldn’t help but notice that the Trump administration fails to account for the benefits lost by abandoning the existing BOP regulations. As the Obama administration noted in its 2015 regulatory impact analysis of the BOP improvements:

“…the Deepwater Horizon disaster provides a recent, real-world example of the scope of the potential costs to be avoided, currently in excess of $40 billion and growing, and thus of the potential benefits to be gained by reducing the risks of major oil spills.”

The Trump administration’s inadequate assessment of the economic, environmental, and public health implications of the rollback is described by a coalition of groups, including Earthjustice, The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Gulf Restoration Network, and the National Parks Conservation Association. They are joined in their opposition to the rule change by nearly 50,000 individuals who also weighed in with their opposition to the regulatory rollback.

BSEE sent the final rule to the White House for review just before the Interior Department shutdown along with other federal agencies.


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