The Trump Administration’s campaign to stymie regulatory efforts targeting the offshore oil and gas industry continued this month, as the Interior Department halted a study aimed at improving the way the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducts safety inspections of offshore drilling operations.
BSEE Study One of Several Undertaken In Response to Deepwater Horizon Explosion
The study, which the BSEE requested in 2016, was being conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
It was also one of a series of studies undertaken by the National Academies, the Government Accountability Office, and a special presidential commission reviewing the causes of the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and injured 17 others.
According to the Times-Picayune, the Interior Department issued a “Stop Work Order” to the National Academies on December 7th. No reason was given for the decision to halt the project, and officials at the BSEE and Interior did not respond to a request for additional information.
Contract to Conduct Study Could be Terminated Within 90 Days of Stop-Work Order
Entitled “Review and Update of Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Inspection Program,” the study was to have lasted 21 months.
Within 90 days, the stop-work order will either be lifted, allowing the study to resume, or the contract to perform the research will be terminated.
The Interior Department’s decision to halt the study has already drawn sharp criticism from environmentalists.
“One thing we should all be able to agree on is that safety is of paramount importance, so preventing a study like this simply flies in the face of common sense,” Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for U.S. oceans with the environmental group Oceana, told the Times-Picayune.
BSEE Refuses to Enact Offshore Worker Protections
The decision to halt the BSEE study is just the most recent indication of the Trump Administration’s intention to weaken offshore drilling regulations.
Last month, the BSEE refused to enact rules proposed under the Obama Administration that would have allowed personnel aboard offshore rigs to order a work stoppage in the event of safety concerns. The proposed rules would have also provided offshore rig workers with whistleblower protections against retaliation.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) proposed the regulations in 2016, after its investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion found that BP and its contractors had cut corners and ignored early warnings of a blowout.
Jordan Barab, a former CSB investigator and deputy assistant secretary at OSHA, warned that the failure to implement the protections could cost lives in the future.
“You’re just inviting these kinds of accidents to happen over and over again,” he told The Houston Chronicle.
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