US considers overhauling offshore drilling rules
Washington, 26 October (Argus) — President Donald Trump's administration is considering revising parts of offshore drilling safety regulations intended to prevent the type of blowout that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Those potential changes will "strike the appropriate balance" between safety, the environment and energy production, the administration says. But the revisions, including a plan to let some operators reduce by 50pc how often they test a device called a blowout preventer, could expose the administration to criticisms it is increasing the risks of another major oil spill.
The US Interior Department disclosed its plans for revising the safety regulations yesterday in a report describing its efforts to reduce regulatory burdens on oil and gas production on federally owned areas located onshore and offshore. Those plans consist almost entirely of rolling back or revising rules issued under former president Barack Obama.
The Trump administration said it began considering revising the "well control rule" in July. That rule, which Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued last year, incorporated recommendations from investigators of Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers and spilled an estimated 3.18mn bl of crude.
The 2016 rule had required offshore operators to pressure-test blowout preventers, devices that serve as the last line of defense against a blowout, every 14 days. BSEE initially proposed to require pressure testing every seven days but relaxed the requirement in response to industry concerns.
Now the Trump administration is considering extending the requirement further, to allow pressure-testing every 21 days "in some situations." It is also considering simplifying testing procedures for devices called shear rams, revising requirements for unmanned robots that service subsea equipment, and changing a requirement to submit testing results to BSEE within 72 hours, among other potential changes.
Based on feedback, the administration said that it might increase the number of "potential reforms" it may make to the well control rule. Any changes would have to go through a rulemaking process that would likely take more than a year to complete.
The Trump administration said it is also considering rolling back offshore drilling regulations that apply in arctic waters. Among the changes it is considering would be eliminating a requirement for operators to show they could drill and abandon a relief well, in the event of a well blowout, before the anticipated return of sea ice.
BSEE when it finalized the rule last year said being able to kill an out of control well before sea ice encroachment was critical to avoiding a spill continuing all winter. The Trump administration says the changes would give flexibility to operators "to continue drilling into hydrocarbon zones later into the Arctic drilling season."
US federal arctic waters are estimated to hold 24bn bl of technically recoverable oil and 104 Tcf (2.9 trillion m³) of natural gas. Oil producers are trying to develop some of those resources using artificial islands near Alaska, but offshore arctic drilling in the area has been unsuccessful. Shell abandoned a years-long offshore drilling effort in 2015 after investing $7bn.