Groups Sue Trump Administration Over Rollback Of Offshore Drilling Safety Rules

Jun 12, 2019

A handful of environmental groups are taking the Trump administration to federal court over its rollback of regulations meant to prevent offshore oil spills.

Environmental advocates say the U.S. Department of the Interior has weakened the Obama-era safety rules, contradicting its previous scientific findings and policies put into place after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The partial appeal of the 2016 rules is now blocked as a result of the lawsuit from the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and a handful of other environmental and public health nonprofits.

The blowout at the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010 killed 11 and discharged 130 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico – becoming the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. In response, the Obama administration increased safety standards for equipment and the frequency of inspections of blowout preventers – which cap oil wells in the event of a spill – and other safety equipment.

The Department of Interior says the partial repeal, which was set to take effect next month, would lead to the same level of safety while saving the oil industry millions of dollars a year.

"That’s the problem," says Chris Eaton, a lawyer with Earthjustice. "They gave short shrift to worker safety and protection of the environment … and spent the bulk of their analysis looking at how much money it was going to save industry."

The lawsuit alleges the Department of the Interior disregarded extensive evidence and expert findings that went into the initial rule, but critics also say the rule-change is financially shortsighted.

The administration estimates the rollback would save $1.5 billion over 10 years, says Jacob Carter, a research scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"It was estimated that the Deepwater Horizon spill cost BP an estimated $67 billion from the disaster. It seems like it would be cheaper in the long run to implement the safety practices," Carter said.

But the proposed rollback has been heralded by industry. In May, the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement the revision "strengthens the rule and enhances a robust regulatory framework."