By Robert L. Bradley Jr.
The Interior Department just revised a series of Obama-era regulations governing offshore oil and gas drilling — and environmentalists are hopping mad.
Recently, green groups including the Sierra Club and EarthJustice filed a lawsuit against Interior’s update. These groups claim the Trump administration is “softening” and “relaxing” safety standards.
That’s not true. The revision simply cuts redundant federal regulations, making it easier for private offshore companies to manage risks. The department deserves applause for boosting workers’ economic opportunities while improving safety.
As many as 90 billion barrels of oil and 328 cubic feet of natural gas lie buried in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf — the federally-owned land beneath the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico. To collect these energy riches, oil and gas firms use offshore rigs or platforms to drill wells into the ocean floor.
Interior’s update eliminates bureaucratic red tape around this process — so that rig workers can focus on safety. The revision gets rid of redundant tests on wells and blowout preventers, the specialized valves that quickly seal wells to prevent oil spills.
Without these repetitive tests, offshore workers have more time to continue modernizing their safety protocols.
Over the past decade, the offshore industry published over 100 new or updated rules for offshore exploration and production. The sector also created the Center for Offshore Safety in 2011, which analyzes potential safety hazards, facilitates third-party audits of offshore procedures, and constantly shares safety performance data to prevent future incidents.
And in 2010, the industry formed two rapid response organizations comprised of offshore operators. These groups, capable of responding to threats thousands of feet underwater, share their resources with the entire industry.
Blowout preventer technology, in particular, has undergone major updates over the past few years. The newest equipment is easier to operate and more powerful than ever. One modern BOP system uses 4D “digital fingerprinting” technology to proactively inspect valves without disassembling them.
Additionally, workers who used to manually collect data on BOPs can now access that data digitally in real time.
“We are changing the game by building the new blowout preventer service model for the industry. With improved control, maintenance and servicing of our equipment, we are putting skin in the game and guaranteeing performance,” Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CEO of GE Oil & Gas, told Offshore Magazine.
Contrary to the green movement’s doomsday rhetoric, the revised rule keeps 80 percent of the original regulations intact. It just gets rid of excessive red tape that did little to improve safety.
Expanding offshore drilling would boost the U.S. economy. Exploration in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Eastern Gulf could add more than $60 billion a year to our GDP and create roughly 730,000 American jobs over the next two decades. Drilling off the coast of Alaska alone could add 13,500 jobs a year.
New technology and industry standards have made Obama-era offshore regulations obsolete. The Interior Department’s revised rule wisely leaves certain offshore safety decisions to the professionals on the ground — or rather, on the rigs.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.