The Obama administration issued new rules to make offshore oil and natural gas drilling equipment safer and to reduce the risks of digging wells.
The oil industry and its supporters in Congress reacted immediately, arguing that the rules are costly and possibly unnecessary.
Announced April 14 and published by the U.S. Department of the Interior, the rules come nearly six years after the catastrophic blowout of a BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and injured many others aboard Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
The leak dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, causing massive environmental issues as the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, another federal agency — the U.S. Chemical Safety Board — issued recommendations on April 13 for even more rigorous safety standards to make offshore drilling safe. That agency said offshore workers should be involved more in safety decisions and regulators should be given more authority to enforce rules, according to an Associated Press report published by The Times-Picayune.
The Interior Department requirements, laid out in a final offshore well-control rule, would require more frequent testing of the devices, swift reporting when parts fail, and retrofitting the equipment with extra shearing rams meant to slash through drill pipe and help seal an open well hole.
“We intend to increase the performance and reliability of these complex systems,” said Brian Salerno, director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, in a report by Bloomberg. “That critical system can be the last line of defense in preventing a human and environmental catastrophe.”
The oil industry pushed back against the rules, arguing that they will impose billions of dollars in new costs at a time when the industry can ill afford them. ExxonMobil, Chevron, Anadarko and other companies have lobbied against the regulations, leading regulators to soften some requirements in the final rules, compared with the original proposal from last year, according to a report by OilPrice.com.