Ten environmental groups are suing the Trump administration for plans to roll back the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule, which was implemented in 2016 to prevent offshore tragedies similar to the Macondo blowout in 2010.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is challenging the revisions by the Department of Interior and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The BSEE in May issued final regulations covering blowout preventer (BOP) systems and well control, ostensibly to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens.
The well control rule was finalized by the Obama administration, six years after BP plc’s deadly Macondo blowout in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 men, destroyed the Deepwater Horizon platform and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Macondo’s BOP failed, according to an extensive investigation by BP and federal officials. Since the tragedy, many offshore operators voluntarily have installed updated well control and BOP equipment.
At the direction of Executive Order 13795 and Interior Secretary Order 3350, the revised final rule by the Trump administration reduced oversight on offshore oil and gas drilling, completions, workovers and decommissioning activities.
“These rollbacks are a step back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days when the offshore oil industry largely policed itself to disastrous effect,” said Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton. “This attempt to roll the dice with offshore safety not only puts workers and our coasts at risk, but violates the law.”
In addition to Earthjustice, the coalition of local and national groups joining the lawsuit are Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Healthy Gulf, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, North Carolina Coastal Federation and South Carolina Coastal Conservation League.
The case challenges key rollbacks to the safety rules, including weakening performance requirements for BOPs; eliminating the system of independent safety equipment inspectors; grandfathering existing drilling rigs into outdated BOP standards; and reducing safety equipment testing and inspection standards.
The lawsuit claims Interior officials have disregarded the extensive evidence and expert findings that were enacted in the original regulations and asserts Interior failed to consider how the rollbacks could harm offshore safety and the environment, while also violating transparency requirements.
“The well control rule was one of the most important measures we took, as a nation, to reduce the risk of another BP-style disaster at sea,” said NRDC’s Bob Deans, director of strategic engagement.
“The 2016 rule enhanced worker safety, the integrity of equipment inspections and the monitoring of critical operations and tests. Weakening those protections to boost industry profits puts our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. We’re fighting to restore these commonsense safeguards and standing up for all they protect.”