Another Deepwater Horizon Disaster Could be In America’s Future

The Trump administration seeks to weaken safety regulations set in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and spilled 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico

Nine years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history, another disaster could be looming on the horizon. The Trump administration is working to weaken safety and environmental protections that are in place while expanding offshore drilling, an Oceana report finds. The administration is also proposing to expand offshore drilling to almost all U.S. waters.

After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, over 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. The costs of cleaning up the spill totaled more than $14 billion in the years directly following the disaster. One of the regulations the administration seeks to weaken is the Well Control Rule enacted after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Clearly, Trump and company learned nothing from the disaster.

The administration wants to water down testing requirements for safety devices such as blowout preventers. The proposed safety rollbacks will save the offshore oil and gas industry around $824 million over 10 years, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). BP lost an estimated $60 billion due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which is more than 70 times the estimated 10-year savings from weakening safety standards. “This focus on short-term cost savings to industry is shortsighted and does not ensure offshore drilling safety,” the report states.

“Less safety and more drilling is a recipe for disaster,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana, in a statement. “President Trump must drastically reverse course in order to prevent another BP Deepwater Horizon-like disaster.”

The problems with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Oceana found that the BSEE relies heavily on safety standards written by the industry to regulate offshore drilling and does not provide enough oversight or enforcement. The BSEE regularly grants exemptions to offshore drilling safety requirements. An exemption issued before the Deepwater Horizon explosion was found to have increased the risk of not being able to control the well, which can result in a blowout like the one that occurred. The current inspection and enforcement actions by the BSEE lack adequate and comprehensive oversight of offshore drilling activities. There are inadequate civil penalties which fail to stop the industry from cutting corners.

Safety culture has not improved enough

Following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Oil Drilling issued a report that called for “sweeping reforms” of the offshore drilling industry. The report also called for a “fundamental transformation of its safety culture.” However, the report by Oceana finds that “no meaningful evidence of such a transformation exists.” The industry ignored the recommendations of the National Commission. From 2007 to 2017, on average, a fire or explosion occurred offshore every three days and every year hundreds of workers are injured.

What needs to be done to prevent oil spills

Despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster and subsequent National Commission recommendations, at least 6,500 oil spills occurred in federal water waters from 2007 to 2017. The Oceana report recommends that the Trump administration stop all efforts to expand offshore drilling to new areas and stop trying to weaken safety regulations. The report also recommends that Congress require “accurate oil spill reporting” plus create penalties for under-reporting.

One of the biggest things that the U.S. can do to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster is to shift to renewable energy sources. In other words, stop the need for offshoring drilling for natural gas and oil. 

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