U.S. seeks revision of rule on offshore oil wells made after BP disaster

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Friday proposed relaxing a rule on offshore oil wells that was finalized after the 2010 BP Plc disaster and crude spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of its effort to slash regulations it considers burdensome on industry.

The exact revisions to the 2016 well control rule proposed by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), an office of the Department of Interior, will be known next week when they are published in the Federal Register.

But the proposed changes will include removing “prescriptive requirements” for real-time monitoring of offshore drilling facilities and allow the oil producers to use company-specific approaches, a BSEE fact sheet said.

The proposed revisions will also seek to minimize what BSEE says are duplicative notifications of rig movements that operators are required to send to the agency. In addition, independent third-party groups would be allowed to do some certifications and verifications on parts of blow-out preventers, which seek to stop the uncontrolled releases of crude, according to the fact sheet.

The 2010 Macondo disaster killed 11 oil rig workers, was the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history, and has cost BP about $65 billion.

While drilling interests had pushed the agency to revise the rule, Scott Angelle, the director of BSEE, said in a blog that the agency would never put offshore workers or the environment at greater risk. “At the same time, we are equally dedicated to addressing overly burdensome regulations and, even more so, to amending or eliminating regulations that may decrease safety or increase the chances of environmental harm,” he said.

Randall Luthi, the president of National Ocean Industries Association, said changes to the rule would increase efficiency and “do not, in any way, constitute a rollback in offshore safety.”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, was concerned the revisions would weaken the offshore regulations. “These rules were put in place to prevent another massive oil spill off our coasts,” he said. “We can’t allow this new administration to take us backwards in time.”

The proposal will be published next week and open to a 60-day public comment period.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Matthew Lewis