South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Trump administration proposes repealing offshore drilling safety measures
January 4th, 2018

By Clayton Stairs, South Strand News

Concerned citizens and environmental groups are urging people to participate in an open comment period concerning plans by the Trump Administration to roll back offshore oil drilling safety measures put in place after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

This announcement comes amid concerns about the Trump Administration's expected release of its five-year plan to open the Mid and South Atlantic to offshore drilling (the release came Thursday) and recent comments by State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Murrells Inlet, in support of seismic surveys to determine if there is oil and natural gas under the ocean floor.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is proposing "to amend the regulations regarding oil and natural gas production to reduce certain unnecessary regulatory burdens imposed under the existing regulations, while correcting errors and clarifying current requirements," according to a certified document in the Federal Register. An open comment period will continue until Jan. 29.

The BSEE states in that document that "after thoroughly reexamining the current regulations, and based on experiences from the implementation process, and BSEE policy, BSEE proposes to amend, revise or remove current regulatory provisions that create unnecessary burdens on stakeholders while maintaining or advancing the level of safety and environmental protection."

An explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform about 40 miles off Louisiana's coast in April 2010 killed 11 people at a BP oil well site, and released an estimated 3.1 million barrels of oil into Gulf waters before being capped 87 days later.

"When the wreck of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig left oil and gas streaming out of the ocean's floor uncontrollably, for three long months, it would never have occurred to anyone that we needed less safety around offshore drilling," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for U.S. oceans with a national environmental protection group called Oceana. "We needed more."

She said the rules in question were largely based on industry-derived standards.

"The idea that our regulatory system for this dangerous activity requires less safety than what the industry would do on its own is ludicrous," Savitz said. "When our last line of defense against a major oil spill fails, it costs many, many times more than the safety measures cost. And when, not if, but when that happens again, it will be too late to require these safety measures and (the) decision by the Trump Administration will be partly to blame."

Peg Howell, a founding member of Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic, a grassroots citizen group known as SODA, agreed.

"The content of this rule is definitely focused on saving oil and gas companies money in several ways: simplifying reporting, removing a requirement to have a third party review particular equipment, approval to use old inventory of equipment purchased before a newer rule went into effect, etc.," Howell said. "Also, it's true that parts of this revision would reduce the role of government in offshore oil production and return more responsibility back to private companies."

Amy Armstrong is lead counsel for South Carolina Environmental Law Project, which is representing the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast in an effort to support the denial of permits for seismic surveying in the Atlantic. She said seismic surveying is one means to one end: offshore drilling.

"Neither makes any economic or ecological sense," Armstrong said. "The coastal population and local governments overwhelmingly oppose such extreme and unwarranted exploitation of our natural resources. SCELP will keep fighting along with our many allies."

Goldfinch stated during an S.C. House of Representatives ad hoc committee hearing about oil and gas drilling: "Nearly every other part of the world has engaged in seismic surveying of their ocean because they want to know what's beneath their waves off of their shores. We are the only people that have not done that." Although Goldfinch said that he is not for or against drilling for oil, he has said that environmental groups are not willing to consider any arguments for seismic surveys to find out what natural gas and oil is out there.

"I don't see it as an opportunity to ruin the coast, I see it as an opportunity to provide economic diversity and jobs to our coast," Goldfinch said at the hearing.

The public may submit comments on the rule making before Jan. 29 by any of the following methods:

(Use the Regulation Identifier Number 1014–AA37 as an identifier in the message.)

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the entry titled Enter Keyword or ID, enter BSEE–2017–0008, then click search. Follow the instructions to submit public comments and view supporting and related materials available for this rulemaking. The BSEE may post all submitted comments.

• Mail or hand-carry comments to the Department of the Interior Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement; Attention: Regulations Development Branch; 45600 Woodland Road, VAE–ORP, Sterling VA 20166. Reference ‘‘Oil and Gas Production Safety Systems—Revisions, 1014–AA37’’ in all comments and include the submitter's name and return address.

• Send comments on the information collection in this proposed rule to: Interior Desk Officer 1014–0003, Office of Management and Budget; 202–395–5806 (fax); email: oira_submission@omb.eop.gov. And send a copy to BSEE.

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