The U.S. Department of the Interior’s proposed relaxation of regulations designed to prevent another catastrophic offshore-drilling explosion could prove disastrous for the mid-Atlantic shoreline, Maryland’s attorney general wrote in a letter this week to regulators.
Brian E. Frosh stated it would be “arbitrary and capricious” for the department to ease the regulatory framework while a significant number of the safety regulations promulgated in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico have not yet gone into effect. The explosion on BP’s rig killed 11 workers, released more than 130 million gallons of oil and caused billions of dollars in damages, according to the federal government.
The Interior Department’s regulatory reassessment would increase offshore oil and gas leases while rolling back what the federal agency considers excessive and expensive inspection and reporting requirements implemented after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The department stated in the Federal Register that the proposal is in keeping with President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order to revise regulations “to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf, in order to maintain the nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible.”
But Frosh, in his letter cosigned by nine fellow attorneys general, likened the proposed regulations by the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to an automobile crash in waiting.
“By dramatically increasing the volume of oil and gas leasing, BOEM would dramatically increase the number of locations at risk of spills, blowouts, and their accompanying consequences for environmental and human health,” Frosh wrote in his letter to BSEE Director Scott A. Angelle. “Easing safety precautions now is analogous to taping over the mirrors and unbuckling one’s seatbelt just before getting on the highway.”
The deregulatory proposal by the Trump administration is in reaction to the Well Control Rule promulgated by the Obama administration and could spur a courtroom challenge by the 10 states represented in the letter, Frosh wrote.
“(T)he potential expansion of offshore drilling underscores the imperative to maintain robust precautions aimed at preventing and containing blowouts and other spills,” Frosh wrote.
“Weakening the WCR just two years after its promulgation, and before some of its provisions have even come into force, would increase the likelihood of another Deepwater Horizon disaster – exactly the scenario that the WCR was designed to prevent,” Frosh added. “Such an action would epitomize an arbitrary and capricious reversal of position. Accordingly, we strongly oppose any weakening of the WCR’s protections, and we reserve all rights in connection with BSEE’s disposition of this matter.”
Frosh’s letter followed the Maryland General Assembly’s passage this year of legislation that would hold oil and gas companies strictly liable for environmental spills resulting from the “ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity” of offshore drilling. Gov. Larry Hogan signed House Bill 1456 into law in May.
Frosh was joined in his letter by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Washington, each of whom is a Democrat or appointed by a Democratic governor.
In the letter, Frosh stated that BOEM’s proposal includes leases in the mid-, north and south Atlantic, as well as near Washington and Oregon, areas where no oil and gas activities exist.
“Because these planning areas have largely been free of oil and gas production, the areas adjacent (including our states) generally lack the infrastructure to respond to a significant offshore oil spill or similar event,” Frosh wrote. “Thus, BSEE’s proposal to weaken precautions meant to prevent spills comes at the same time as it proposes to bring offshore drilling to the areas least equipped to respond to those spills.”