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Interior Loosens Post-Macondo Oil, Gas Safety Rules

The Department of Interior on Friday finalized revamped rules covering oil and natural gas activities on the Outer Continental Shelf, revising or eliminating many of the drilling safeguards put in place following the tragic Macondo well blowout in 2010.

Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) said the updated oil and gas production safety rules, initially proposed last year, would “reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens” and ensure operations “remain safe and environmentally responsible.”

The reform package, published in the Federal Register, is designed to “encourage responsible energy exploration and production” to maintain the nation’s position as a global leader.

The former rules “created potentially unduly burdensome regulations for oil and natural gas production operators on the Outer Continental Shelf, without meaningfully increasing safety of the workers or protection of the environment,” BSEE said in the 176-page document.

“BSEE has incorporated industry innovation, best science and best practices in the Oil and Gas Production Safety Systems Rule to ensure safety and environmental sustainability,” Director Scott Angelle said. “When critical energy resources are produced safely and responsibly, we build a stronger energy future for the nation. We can achieve robust energy production only if operations are conducted in a safe and environmentally sustainable manner.”

The rule, also known as Subpart H, addresses offshore safety and pollution prevention equipment; subsea safety devices; and safety device testing for oil and gas production resources.

The revisions followed two executive orders (EO) issued in 2017 by the Trump administration. In one EO, federal agencies were ordered to review existing regulations, and to either suspend, revise or rescind any deemed a hindrance to domestic energy development.

The second EO required BSEE to review the Well Control Rule enacted by the Obama administration in 2016 in response to BP plc's Macondo well blowout eight years ago in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

“BSEE carefully analyzed all 484 provisions in the original 2016 Production Safety Systems Rule and determined that of 84 of those provisions -- less than 18% of the original rule -- were appropriate for revision or deletion,” the agency said. The final rule also includes seven new provisions.

According to BSEE, all of the provisions in the final rule were compared against the 424 recommendations included in 26 separate reports that were completed by 14 organizations following the Macondo incident, which destroyed the Deepwater Horizon platform servicing the well, killing 11 men and injuring many more.

Officials determined that the changes to Subpart H “will not contradict or ignore any of those recommendations, nor will they alter any provision of the 2016 rule in a way that would make the result inconsistent with those recommendations.”

BSEE said “nothing in the final rule will alter any elements of other rules promulgated since the Deepwater Horizon incident,” including a Drilling Safety Rule issued in October 2010, two Safety and Environmental Management System rules issued in 2010 and April 2013 and the Well Control Rule issued in April 2016.

“BSEE approached revising the 2016 Production Safety Systems Rule with a thoughtful and laser-like focus,” Angelle said. “The review team, comprised of career subject matter experts, used a scalpel, rather than a chainsaw, to make these revisions.”

In addition to measures that reduce unnecessary notifications and clarify when operators must provide documentation, the final rule codifies 12 updated industry standards. The newly codified standards are to become enforceable regulation.

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