Trump Administration Waives Safety Rules Meant to Prevent Another BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Trump Administration Waives Safety Rules Meant to Prevent Another BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Waivers and planned rollback of Well Control Rule put lives at risk.




Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

President Donald Trump and members of his administration who hold deep ties to the fossil fuel industry have set forth to plunder America’s offshore and onshore public lands and waters even at the cost of endangering human lives.

As Politico recently revealed, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has issued 1,700 waivers that exempt offshore oil and gas companies from the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule. The Bureau adopted the rule in 2016 to implement offshore safety measures that would prevent another BP Deepwater Horizon disaster — a disaster that killed 11 men and devastated the environment of the northern Gulf of Mexico. But then the Trump administration came in and decided not to require many of the safety upgrades.

In the years immediately following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, several panels of experts on offshore drilling, engineering, and oversight examined what caused the rig explosion and oil spill. They found there wasn’t just one trigger to the event, but a series of flawed drilling practices and equipment designs that resulted in oil and gas erupting from the well onto the rig and exploding. These flaws existed, the panels found, because of industry’s desire to cut costs and the government’s lax regulation of offshore drilling.

The Obama administration took a significant step to address the identified failures when it issued the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule. The rule requires some common-sense upgrades to drilling technology and practices, such as adding back-up safety mechanisms. It also requires operators to regularly test safety equipment to make sure it will actually function in an emergency — unlike the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment, which failed and allowed the blowout. 

The rule also requires inspectors to be completely independent from the oil and gas industry. Prior to the BP disaster, oil and gas companies were left to self-report on the safety of their equipment. This led to a culture of cutting corners and blowing off obligations to ensure safety for the rig workers. It even led to examples of so-called inspectors falsifying safety tests of their equipment. Under the Well Control Rule, the inspectors are required to be free from conflicts of interest, and are therefore more likely to accurately report equipment problems and other violations.

These upgraded standards don’t eliminate the risks from offshore drilling, but they significantly reduce the risks of worker deaths and catastrophic oil spills. Even better for the oil and gas industry, BSEE calculated that the rule actually saves industry millions of dollars in long-term maintenance and operating costs.

But apparently the industry thought upgrading its equipment and drilling practices in the short-term was a waste of money, so it lobbied to have the new requirements repealed. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, himself rife with conflicts of interest, appointed an oil industry insider, Scott Angelle, to oversee BSEE. Angelle “led Louisiana’s push to lift the federal moratorium on Gulf Coast drilling” after the Deepwater Horizon spill and earned $1.5 million as a board member for an oil pipeline company. After he was appointed to direct BSEE, he gave industry executives his personal cell phone number to contact as a “business opportunity,” advising them to call rather than text because texts are subject to public records laws. (Note: John Oliver clip in link has some racy language). 

So it came as no surprise last April when Angelle announced a plan to repeal the most important safety provisions of the Well Control Rule. BSEE claims getting rid of the safety requirements will have no effect on risks, and also has made head-scratching claims that eliminating these environmental protection regulations will miraculously benefit the environment. The agency is undertaking all this with a “trust us” approach, but hasn’t actually conducted a legally sufficient analysis (e.g., a risk assessment) of what the rollback will mean.

With its 1,700 waivers of the Well Control Rule, BSEE is effectively telling industry, “if you don’t like the rule, you don’t have to comply.” Perhaps even more ridiculous is that BSEE is citing the waivers as evidence that the Well Control Rule is “unnecessary.” And the agency is stonewalling attempts to get more info on its secretive decisions to issue the waivers.

It’s clear that drilling practices, equipment design, and regulatory oversight were all seriously lacking when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred — that it was imperative to address those problems. It is equally clear that the Well Control Rule made significant safety improvements and reduced the risk of another Deepwater Horizon occurring. The oil industry’s desire to make an extra buck doesn’t somehow put it above the law or justify slashing safety requirements and putting people’s lives at risk. Scott Angelle’s efforts to gut the Well Control Rule and send us back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days of offshore safety are setting us up for another preventable disaster that could result in oil washing up on your local beach.

Earthjustice has five active cases challenging the Trump administration’s current offshore drilling operations and the unlawful expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing and exploration, including:

  • Two active lawsuits challenging Gulf of Mexico lease sales and current Gulf drilling operations that threaten wildlife, human safety, and coastal communities
  • A challenge to Trump’s executive order attempting to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
  • A lawsuit in partnership with nearly a dozen other groups to keep the Atlantic free of seismic airgun blasting, an exploratory precursor to offshore drilling that can harm or kill marine wildlife.
  • A challenge to the Trump administration’s approval of Hilcorp Alaska’s controversial Liberty project, the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters.

Earthjustice submitted comments with 16 other groups calling on BSEE to halt its planned Well Control Rule rollback, and is prepared to challenge that repeal if the agency unlawfully finalizes it.

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The FDA Asks Abortion-by-Mail Providers to Cease Sale of Drugs

In October 2018, Rebecca Gomperts, the founder of the abortion-by-mail service Women on Web, confirmed she had branched out to the United States. Gomperts had long avoided doing so for fear that the anti-abortion movement would go after her work, but said that the need for the service was ultimately too great. “I got an email from a woman who was living in a car with two kids,” she told the Atlantic. “Something had to be done.”

Source: The FDA Asks Abortion-by-Mail Providers to Cease Sale of Drugs

Federal Court Rules That Ohio Can Defund Planned Parenthood

According to Planned Parenthood president Leana Wen, the ruling will “roll back the gains to public health—harming women’s health, children’s health and the health of families across Ohio.” Trump has already radically changed the way that abortion providers receive funds, barring them from receiving Title X funding, in effect cutting millions of dollars from Planned Parenthood. Just last month, another new rule by Health and Human Services requires abortion providers to keep a “clear physical and financial separation” between the parts of their organization that are government funded, and those that provide abortions.

Source: Federal Court Rules That Ohio Can Defund Planned Parenthood

Impeaching Trump Would Be Purely Symbolic, And There’s No Reason To Think It Would be Effective Symbolism

Pelosi is getting some criticism for stating the obvious:

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

Note here that Pelosi isn’t saying that Trump shouldn’t be impeached, per se, but that there’s no point in impeaching him if he can’t plausibly be removed from office. Which is correct:

  • If Trump can’t be convicted in the Senate, impeachment is purely a question of symbolic politics. What would it accomplish? What end would it serve?
  • Trump is already unpopular. Open-ended investigations are an excellent way of making him even less popular while informing the public. Republicans were able to severely damage Hillary Clinton with a bunch of investigations that were just snipe hunts, as opposed to serious investigations of many scandals any one of which would have destroyed the typical political career.
  • Impeachment proceedings would definitely mobilize Trump’s supporters plus some wavering Republicans. On the other hand, “impeachment” in the common vernacular tends to be conflated with “impeachment and removal.” Impeachment proceedings therefore set up expectations among a lot of Trump opponents that won’t be fulfilled. How does an impeachment that can’t even get a simple majority (let alone the necessary supermajority) in the Senate, with inevitable “Views differ about partisan witch hunt” and “Democrats, the only party with any causal impact on American politics, fail to remove Trump because they’re failures” coverage, mobilize Trump’s opponents?
  • Yes, yes, Watergate, Things Escalated Quickly, we know. The fact that Republicans turned on Nixon in an era in which major environmental legislation could pass 366-11 in the House and 74-0 in the Senate is about as relevant to how things would play out in 2019 as the mastery of radio communications is to modern presidential campaigning.

The only considerations of impeaching Trump with no hope of removal are political, and there’s every reason to think that the downside far exceeds the upside.

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House Republicans propose poisoning Net Neutrality bill with Article-13-like liability

Last week, House Democrats introduced the Save the Internet Act, to enact the Net Neutrality protections favored by 83% of Americans; in response, Rep Greg Walden (R-OR, @repgregwalden, +1 (541) 776-4646) has proposed legislation rescinding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “the most important law protecting internet speech”, which says that online services are not required to pro-actively censor user postings that might contain illegal speech — a vital protection that made it possible for sites like this one to have comment sections, and also enabled sites like Youtube and Snapchat to accept photos and videos from the public.

Section 230 was dealt a terrible blow last year with the passage of SESTA/FOSTA, which imposes a duty on service providers to ensure that users are not engaged in the sex trade; this has made life much more dangerous for sex workers, endangered positive depictions of human sexuality, and subjected Tumblr users to algorithmic censorship at mass scale, with predictable results.

But as bad as SESTA/FOSTA was, Walden’s proposal would be much, much worse. Eliminating Section 230 protection for wider classes of bad speech would make every public utterance subject to extremely broad, error-prone algorithmic censorship, while cementing the dominance of today’s digital monopolists, because only the largest tech companies would be able to afford to run these buggy algorithms.

This is a Made-in-America version of Europe’s Article 13, a measure so unpopular that the petition against it is now the most popular petition in human history. It’s more proof that the Republicans want to subject the vast majority of us to deeply unpopular ideas that only a tiny minority of mostly very rich people like.

New Zealand doctors move clinics outside in bid to stop measles’ spread

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Vaccinations taking place in car parks to reduce risk of infectious disease being transmitted in crowded clinics

Doctors are treating unimmunised New Zealanders in carparks and outdoor areas in an attempt to reduce the spread of measles, as the number of confirmed cases of the contagious disease rose to 25.

A severe measles outbreak, described as the worst “in years” continues to spread in the Canterbury region of the South Island, with health authorities saying 100,000 people need to be urgently vaccinated, and more cases of the highly infectious illness are expected in the coming days and weeks.

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