11 AGs Oppose Trump Administration Effort to Weaken Offshore Drilling Safety Requirements

AGs say rolling back basic safety and environmental safeguards especially alarming given proposals to expand drilling off our nation’s coastlines

August 07, 2018
Contact: Christopher Gray

Washington, D.C.Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh led a coalition of 10 AGs in filing comments with the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) before yesterday’s deadline, demanding that BSEE reverse course and recommit to ensuring worker safety and environmental protection in the offshore drilling industry. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra took a similar stance, and also argued for a change in BSEE’s regulatory approach in comments submitted separately on August 3.

The comments come as a result of BSEE’s May 1 proposal to roll back crucial components of the Blowout Preventer and Well Control Rule, which had been developed through years of careful evaluation, and is intended to prevent another catastrophic oil spill like the one that caused the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Eleven workers were killed in the explosion that caused that spill, and 4.9 million barrels of oil were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico, causing ecological devastation and billions of dollars’ worth of damage. 

“Weakening safety regulations aimed at preventing another Deepwater Horizon disaster is dangerous and irresponsible,” said Attorney General Frosh.  “It is bad enough that the Trump Administration proposes to allow oil drilling near the Chesapeake Bay and our beaches. Reducing safety standards at the same time risks lives and endangers the natural resources we have struggled to protect.”

In response to its new policy directive of removing anything deemed an “unnecessary regulatory burden” by industry, BSEE has recommended rolling back key requirements meant to ensure that the design and operation of essential offshore drilling equipment is safe. In particular, BSEE is moving to limit the amount of testing that companies are required to conduct to ensure the proper functioning of their equipment, and removing real-time safety monitoring requirements. BSEE also is proposing the elimination of a network of approved third-party experts charged with verifying that important inspections, maintenance activities, and drilling operations are being performed safely.

BSEE’s Well Control Rule took five years to develop, and emerged as the result of an extensive consultation process that included input from industry leaders, academic experts, environmental organizations and other qualified members of the public. Many of its key provisions have not yet taken effect.

“We learned from the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy that the oil and gas industry didn’t police itself. Now, Secretary Zinke wants to slash the very protections established to prevent another Deepwater Horizon disaster. Returning to the old, discredited ways of doing business in oil and gas simply underscores how profits trump workers’ lives and safety in this Administration,” said Attorney General Becerra. “California knows all too well the toll that offshore oil and gas exploration takes on our economy, our environment, and our health. We won’t stand idly by as the Trump Administration puts our nation at risk of another Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

“AGs depend on federal regulators to make sure industry is operating safely, and they are fighting back against this short-sighted attempt to roll back needed offshore drilling safeguards,” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center. “The American public should be concerned about the Administration’s willingness to cast aside environmental, health, and safety protections, even as it presses to expand offshore drilling activities in our most sensitive coastlines areas.”

In addition to Maryland, attorneys general of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, and Washington joined the coalition in submitting the comments.


The Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule was finalized in 2016 under the Obama administration, and includes numerous components meant to improve drilling off the coastal waters of the U.S. The rule includes three main components: first, it incorporates a range of industry standards to improve equipment systems and quality management; second, it changes requirements for different practices and equipment used in offshore drilling; and third, the rule empowered BSEE to increase its oversight over industry in the form of inspections, verifications and reporting.

The AGs noted that the rollback of the Well Control Rule is even more alarming since the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has proposed expanding offshore drilling to include areas where oil or gas activities are non-existent today. BSEE’s proposal to weaken precautions meant to prevent spills comes at the same time as it seeks to bring offshore drilling to areas least equipped to respond to those spills.

The attorneys general note in their letter that “by dramatically increasing the volume of oil and gas leasing, BOEM will dramatically increase the number of locations at risk of spills, blowouts, and their accompanying consequences for environmental and human health.  Easing safety precautions now is analogous to taping over the mirrors and unbuckling one’s seatbelt just before getting on the highway.”

ABOUT THE STATE ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT CENTER: The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit http://www.law.nyu.edu/centers/state-impact.