Suit Filed Over Well Control Rule Repeal

BP Deepwater Horizon explosion
BP Deepwater Horizon explosion

Published Jun 11, 2019 7:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

A group of 10 environmental organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Interior's rollbacks of safety measures put in place by the Obama administration after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The lawsuit filed was filed on Tuesday in a federal district court in California, and it alleges that the Department disregarded the evidence and expert findings that underpinned the 2016 Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule and that it was not transparent when drafting the replacement measures.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) adopted the rule in 2016, but last month, the Trump administration revealed plans to repeal several of the safety measures. The changes are expected to save oil and gas drillers at least $1 billion over 10 years.

Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, several panels of experts examined what caused the rig explosion and oil spill. They found there wasn’t just one trigger to the event but a series of flawed drilling practices and equipment designs. 

The Obama administration then issued the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule. The rule requires some upgrades to drilling technology and practices, such as adding back-up safety mechanisms. It also requires operators to regularly test safety equipment to make sure it will actually function in an emergency — unlike the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment, which failed and allowed the blowout.

The rule also requires inspectors to be completely independent from the oil and gas industry. Prior to the BP disaster, oil and gas companies were left to self-report on the safety of their equipment. At the time, BSEE calculated that the rule actually saves industry millions of dollars in long-term maintenance and operating costs.

Since then, BSEE has claimed that removing the safety requirements will have no effect on risks.

One of the environmental organizations, EarthJustice, says: “With its 1,700 waivers of the Well Control Rule, BSEE is effectively telling industry, 'if you don’t like the rule, you don’t have to comply.' Perhaps even more ridiculous is that BSEE is citing the waivers as evidence that the Well Control Rule is 'unnecessary.'

“It’s clear that drilling practices, equipment design, and regulatory oversight were all seriously lacking when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred — that it was imperative to address those problems. It is equally clear that the Well Control Rule made significant safety improvements and reduced the risk of another Deepwater Horizon occurring. The oil industry’s desire to make an extra buck doesn’t somehow put it above the law or justify slashing safety requirements and putting people’s lives at risk. Scott Angelle’s efforts to gut the Well Control Rule and send us back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days of offshore safety are setting us up for another preventable disaster that could result in oil washing up on your local beach.”

In addition to the well control lawsuit, Earthjustice has five other cases challenging the Trump administration’s current offshore drilling operations and the expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing and exploration, including:

• Two active lawsuits challenging Gulf of Mexico lease sales and current Gulf drilling operations that threaten wildlife, human safety, and coastal communities
• A challenge to Trump’s executive order attempting to override the permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
• A lawsuit in partnership with nearly a dozen other groups to keep the Atlantic free of seismic airgun blasting, an exploratory precursor to offshore drilling that can harm or kill marine wildlife.
• A challenge to the Trump administration’s approval of Hilcorp Alaska’s Liberty project, the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters.