Five years after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is pushing major new regulations for offshore oil and gas drilling, reports the New York Times. The regulations, which are likely to be formally announced on Monday, will seek to prevent the circumstances that resulted in a catastrophic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.
The new regulation, which is being championed by the Interior Department, will also ease outrage by environmentalists over the administration’s plans to open up large areas of new federal waters to drilling on the southeast Atlantic Coast.
The specific legislation will toughen the safety requirements on blowout preventers, the supposedly fail-safe devices designed to stop explosions in the underwater drilling process. It will be the administration's third new regulation since the explosion occurred. In 2010, new regulations were announced on drill well casings, and in 2012, the Interior Department announced new rules on the cementing of wells.
“We’re coming on five years, and we’ve been working tirelessly in the regulation division since it happened,” said Allyson Anderson, associate director of strategic engagement at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. “We’ve doubled down on building a culture of safety.”
However, environmentalists remain unconvinced that an event like the Deepwater Horizon explosion can be avoided again.
“Making sure the design, operation and maintenance of the blowout preventer is the best it can possibly be is imperative, no question,” said Bob Deans, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-author of the book “In Deep Water,” an investigation of the cause of the spill. “Industry and government have taken measures over the past five years to reduce some of the risk in what is an inherently dangerous operation at sea. That’s a far cry from saying it’s safe. And the last thing we need is to expose Atlantic or Arctic waters to a BP-style blowout.”
However, a panel appointed by Obama in the wake of the incident concluded that the main cause of the spill was not the blowout preventer, but a number of fundamental failures by the companies involved in the drilling and government agencies that oversee them, reported the New York Times report.