Trump Administration Makes Bogus Claims about Offshore Oil and Gas Safety and Oversight - Oceana USA
Home / Blog / Trump Administration Makes Bogus Claims about Offshore Oil and Gas Safety and Oversight

April 24, 2020

Trump Administration Makes Bogus Claims about Offshore Oil and Gas Safety and Oversight

In a recent blog about the U.S. Department of Interior’s response to the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy – an explosion that claimed 11 lives and debilitated the Gulf of Mexico region for years – Interior touted their leadership in reforming and improving safety of the offshore drilling industry. If you take a closer look, the reality is quite the opposite. President Trump has proposed to radically expand drilling while dismantling the few safety measures put in place as a result of the catastrophe. Below, Oceana sets the record straight on these bogus claims.

Claim: DOI has implemented countless reforms, increased safety measures and increased inspections.

Reality: President Trump has gutted several of the safety measures that were put in place after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon to prevent future disasters

Last year, President Trump weakened the Well Control Rule, a key offshore drilling safety measure that addressed deficiencies in offshore safety following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Well Control Rule was the result of six years of extensive investigation into both the causes of the BP oil spill, as well as deficiencies in offshore drilling safety. President Trump’s rollbacks included:

  • Drastic reductions in the frequency, duration and oversight of blowout preventer testing.
  • Weakening real-time onshore monitoring requirements.
  • Removing government approval of third-party evaluators for offshore drilling safety – a key layer of oversight necessary to avoid industry influence over the certification organizations.

In 2018, President Trump also removed key requirements from the Production Safety Systems Rule so that certain safety and pollution prevention equipment is no longer required to undergo review by an independent third-party or be designed to function under the “most extreme conditions.” The rule also eliminated government approved verification organizations, allowing companies to choose the entity evaluating the safety of their own equipment.

These rollbacks allow offshore oil companies to self-police and prioritize industry profits over public safety. Worse, the federal government regularly grants exemptions – known as departures or alternate compliance – from drilling safety requirements. One such exemption was issued before the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and was later found to have created a risky situation for the uncontrollable blowout. President Trump’s team is letting offshore operators side-step regulations that are critical to human and environmental health.

Claim: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducts comprehensive site-specific environmental assessments for all deepwater exploration plans in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – to ensure appropriate protective measures are implemented and environmental analyses are transparent and well-understood.

Reality: While BSEE may be meeting the basic requirements of NEPA, i.e. obeying the law, President Trump is currently in the process of dismantling this bedrock environmental law.

Proposed rollbacks to NEPA would hinder the public’s access to information about environmental impacts of drilling, weaken the public’s role in decision-making and make legal challenges more difficult. The pending NEPA rollbacks will decrease transparency and government accountability in one fell swoop. Further, the slated rewrite of NEPA rules would remove consideration of the cumulative impacts of government actions — likely eliminating oil spills and climate change from environmental assessments.

President Trump once again prioritizes the oil and gas industry over the communities who will bear the brunt of the impacts of drilling and spilling.

Claim: Safety is priority number one for the Trump’s administration’s oversight of Outer Continental Shelf operations. The Trump administration is working to ensure that operations are conducted safely and in an environmentally sound manner in order to meet domestic and international demand.

Reality: President Trump has cited industry cost-savings as the rationale for gutting the safeguards put in place by President Obama. Safety is not their top priority.

President Trump’s rollbacks put industry profits ahead of public interest.

The government estimated that the Well Control Rule rollbacks will save the offshore oil and gas industry about $824 million over 10 years. However, the costs from these rollbacks could be far greater. For example, BP paid over $60 billion as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster – more than 70 times the estimated cost savings from 10 years of weaker safety standards. Plus, the environmental costs are still felt today.

Investigators of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster called for “sweeping reforms” and a “fundamental transformation” of industry’s safety culture. Despite public claims to the contrary, no meaningful evidence of such a transformation occurred. Instead, industry appears to remain on a similar dangerous course to more injuries, accidents and toxic spills.

Claim: In the event of another large-scale incident, DOI and the Gulf’s operators are prepared to respond.

Reality: We’re tired of empty promises – we know that when oil companies drill, they spill. The response remains inadequate.

Analyzing the impacts of a past disaster doesn’t mean oil companies and government officials are prepared to act swiftly or soundly in the face of another one. Industry has proven that spills and accidents are a regular occurrence. Their record is unacceptable.

At least 7,000 oil spills occurred in U.S. waters between 2007 and 2018. These can happen at every phase of development, including exploration, production and transportation. The damage from oil spills is further exacerbated by the inadequate framework currently in place for oil spill reporting and clean-up. Oil spill clean-up methods have remained largely unchanged since the late 1980s, and our environment is feeling the effects of continued oil exposure. From 2011 to 2018, scientists tested over 2,500 fish throughout the Gulf and every single fish contained oil – a clear example of the widespread, chronic oil pollution taking place.

Claim: Restoration efforts have been underway since day one.

Reality: A decade later, the Gulf of Mexico is still suffering long-term effects of oil pollution and many impacts continue today.

Scientists who studied the Deepwater Horizon described large swaths of the ocean floor around the wellhead as a toxic waste dump, and years later it’s devoid of the kinds of life that typically inhabit that ecosystem. Certain fish, shrimp and squid populations in the Gulf decreased by as much as 85%. More than 1 million migratory shorebirds, including 28 different species, were potentially exposed to oil. Important marshes that protect the coast from storm surges and erosion were lost, and they may never recover.

Offshore oil drilling remains dirty and dangerous 10 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. It is not a matter of whether another spill will occur, but when.