U.S. government proposes easing offshore oil drilling safety regulations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday proposed eliminating some safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling that the Obama administration put in place after BP’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a move it said would reduce “unnecessary burdens” on industry.

An oil and gas drilling platform stands offshore as waves churned from Tropical Storm Karen come ashore in Dauphin Island, Alabama, October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which regulates offshore drilling, said its proposal to scale back some of the Obama-era requirements was in line with the Trump’s administration’s goal of “encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production by removing regulatory hurdles.”

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the deaths of 11 workers and led to the largest oil spill in the history of U.S. marine oil drilling operations.

BP paid out around $60 billion in fines and clean-up costs in the wake of the disaster.

One of the safety provisions BSEE plans to remove is a requirement for operators to get a third party to certify that safety devices work under extreme conditions.

During the BP spill, one of these devices, a blowout preventer, failed to work.

The proposal would also revise some oil production safety system design requirements.

Environmental groups warned that the proposal puts the United States at risk of another major offshore oil spill.

“By tossing aside the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Trump is putting our coasts and wildlife at risk of more deadly oil spills. Reversing offshore safety rules isn’t just deregulation, it’s willful ignorance,” said Miyoko Sakashita director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Industry groups welcomed the opportunity to give more input into how offshore drilling is regulated.

Randall Luthi of the National Ocean Industries Association, an oil and gas industry lobby group, said the proposal presented an “opportunity for further dialogue, discussion and debate.”

The proposal will be published in the Federal Register on Friday and will be open for 30 days of public comment.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tom Brown