How Weakened Drilling Safety Regulations Could Soon Lead To A Gulf Disaster

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. It caused the deaths of 11 workers and left 4 million barrels of oil to pollute the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three straight months.

People living along the Gulf coast, along with native flora and fauna, are still reeling from this tragedy, and it’s likely the environment may never fully recover.

The blowout preventer rule enacted in 2016 required real-time monitoring of operations and certification by third parties of emergency devices. These safety requirements were designed to prevent another such disaster from leaving the Gulf covered in oil.

Oil and gas drilling spills can wreak irreparable harm on the environment.
Source: Adobe Stock/Parilov
Oil and gas drilling spills can wreak irreparable harm on the environment.

“The well control rule was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea,” said NRDC spokesman Bob Deans. “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.”

Three years later, the safety requirements were repealed.

The Trump Administration lifted drilling safety regulations in 2019.
Source: Adobe Stock/zoneteen
The Trump Administration lifted drilling safety regulations in 2019.

As Reuters reports, the changes were aimed at save oil and gas companies at least $1 billion over a decade. But as the Sierra Club contends, the regulations were struck down with little consideration of the potential damage to offshore safety and the environment.

“These rollbacks are a step back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days when the offshore oil industry largely policed itself to disastrous effect. This attempt to roll the dice with offshore safety not only puts workers and our coasts at risk, but violates the law,” said Chris Eaton, Earthjustice attorney.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 caused the deaths of 11 workers and left 4 million barrels of oil afloat in the Gulf of Mexico.
Source: Adobe Stock/wildarun
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 caused the deaths of 11 workers and left 4 million barrels of oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

“On the Gulf Coast, these safety standards have very real implications for workers, the environment and our coastal economy,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of Healthy Gulf. “This administration claims the cost is a ‘burden’ to one of the most profitable industries in the world. That is not a sound justification to rollback these necessary safeguards enacted to prevent another catastrophic blowout like the BP disaster.”

The New York Times found that several of the independent companies seeking the rollback had been recently cited for workplace safety violations, and at a rate much higher than the industry average. These offshore platforms have languished for years, and currently suffer from years of poor maintenance, regular equipment failure and metal fatigue on aging equipment.

Some aging oil rigs in the Gulf are in dire need of repairs.
Adobe Stock/currahee_shutter
Some aging oil rigs in the Gulf are in dire need of repairs.

Given the state of many underproducing oil rigs, disasters are still possible, even with safety precautions in place. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, just two years before the rollback, the Gulf was blighted by the largest spill since the Deepwater Horizon event. The Mississippi Canyon 209 oil spill was traced back to LLOG Exploration Offshore, LLC.

The BSEE estimates that 7,950 to 9,350 barrels of oil were released into the Gulf.

Four months later, a worker was killed while removing firefighting equipment from a platform about 30 miles offshore.

“These regulations were written with human blood,” said Lillian Espinoza-Gala, a former offshore worker who now serves as an industry safety consultant and opposes easing protections. “The only way we can honor those who lost their lives is for us to learn how to do this in the correct way.”

Without proper safety regulations, many are concerned the next Deepwater Horizon disaster may not be far off.
Source: Adobe Stock/wildarun
Without proper safety regulations, many are concerned the next Deepwater Horizon disaster may not be far off.

Drilling has slowed in the Gulf while global supply is high and oil and gas prices are low, but a report from the Wilderness Society moreover shows that the operations may cause substantial pollution before they even begin drilling at full strength.

Scientists estimate that new oil leases in the Gulf could result in carbon emissions equal to the annual output of Brazil, The Guardian reports. Meanwhile Earth is in the midst of a climate crisis that promises to leave future generations struggling to find food, water, and clean air.

“If we really get to the point that we need to burn the Picassos to heat the house for an hour, we could still do that, but there’s no reason to lease these parcels now when they have a higher and better use,” said Ashley Korenblat, CEO of Western Spirit Cycling and managing director of the not-for-profit group Public Land Solutions.

Millions of Americans and countless species are being put at risk by our self-destructive practices when they shouldn’t have to be. Join others in making the United States a leader in sourcing fuel responsibly and safely. Click below to sign the petition and demand stronger safety regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

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