Trump’s Interior Department has issued a large number of exemptions to an Obama-era offshore drilling rule put in place after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Critics say the readily available waivers have effectively eliminated the rules without the administration having to officially take them off the books, according to Politico.
More than 1,700 exemptions to the rule have been issued, with about a third of those waiving restrictions on blowout preventers, the device that malfunctioned during the 2010 disaster. After the blowout preventer failed to seal BP’s erupting oil well, it spilled over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Ten workers died in the incident.
Most of the waivers exempted companies from 53 provisions of the rule that went into effect in 2016, which the industry had claimed were overburdensome. The regulations put in place stricter requirements on the frequency of tests on the blowout preventers, the length of each test, and parts inspections.
The Trump administration also started working to officially revise the regulations last year, and those efforts are now facing a review by the Office of Management and Budget.
Exemptions are allowed under the rule, and the Interior Department is not required to publish requests for waivers, because they can potentially include trade secrets.
Politico obtained the data through a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to a statement from Interior Department spokesperson Lisa Lawrence:
“In approving the permits, the BSEE (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) engineers verify that any proposed alternate procedures or equipment provide a level of safety and environmental protection that equals or exceeds current BSEE regulations.”
The data did not include the dates the exemptions were given, the reasons why, or which companies were given waivers.
“Right now, the public is in the dark about when and why these departures are being granted, and no set of criteria exists for whether a departure can be granted,” according to Diane Hoskins, a campaign director for Oceana, an environmental group.
Lois Epstein, a civil engineer who works on drilling issues for The Wilderness Society, criticized the waivers, saying:
“Are these rules becoming meaningless under the Trump administration? These rules have been put in place for important reasons. They’ve gone through public comment period. It sounds like the regulators have decided that they are going to move toward waivers rather than looking at whether the rule could be made to work as intended.”
And Hoskins added:
“Given the industry’s documented deficient safety culture, the status quo creates opportunities for side-stepping rules that are vital to protecting human and environmental health and safety.”