Nelson Backs Bill To Keep Drilling Safeguards In Place

Apr 30, 2018

Deepwater Horizon, April, 2010.
Credit noaa.gov

Several key offshore drilling safety regulations established by the Obama administration after the 2010 BP oil spill are being targeted for roll back by the Trump administration. That’s drawing fire from Florida’s senior U.S. Senator.

The rollback announcement came Friday, a week after the eighth anniversary of the explosion which killed 11 workers. More than 210 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months, killing massive amounts of wildlife. Speaking on the Senate Floor, Bill Nelson said the damage was both environmental and economic.

“Photographs of Pensacola Beach – those white sands – completely covered in oil; and those photographs went around the world,” said Nelson. “Our tourists, for an entire season thought the beaches on Florida were covered like Pensacola Beach was, and they didn’t come.”

In 2016, several new regs making up the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” were put into place to make sure another such incident didn’t occur again.

“And in 2016, we had just uncovered documents, that BP claimed that an oil spill can be a welcome boost to local economies,” Nelson said. “How outrageous, and how arrogant.”

Along with other safety measures, the “well control” rule included increased design and maintenance standards for blowout preventers – the piece of equipment that failed one mile below the surface at the Deepwater Horizon.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson visiting the University of West Florida.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“If as happened, a blowout, there is a mechanism that is supposed to safely cut the oil line, pinch it, and stop it from flowing,” said Nelson. “It was faulty; it did not work.”

Other rules require real-time monitoring of deep-water wells.

“From 2010 to 2018 – eight years later – the oil industry is trying to roll back those safety requirements that were put into place in the aftermath of spilling five million barrels of oil into the Gulf.”

Meanwhile, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke is sticking to his story that no final decision has been made on the proposal to open up the entire continental U.S. coastline – 12 thousand miles – to oil and gas exploration. He also repeated his promise of no oil and gas platforms off Florida.

“Primarily because of three reasons,” Zinke told a congressional committee. “One it because every member [of Florida’s congressional delegation] contacted me. The Governor asked me for an immediate meeting, and there’s a federal moratorium that would prevent me from conducting oil and gas operations off the coast of Florida.”

That moratorium is set to expire in 2022.

The White House appears to be moving ahead, despite overwhelming bipartisan opposition along the coastline – from governors, communities, businesses, and local elected leaders.

“I can assure you that the coastal communities of Florida vigorously disagree, and I’ll bet you the coastal communities that had to put up with [the BP spill] in their bayous would disagree vigorously as well,” said Nelson.

Nelson and Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington have filed legislation to make the Well Control Rule law, and prevent the Trump administration from rolling it back.

“We can’t allow the Department of the Interior to take us backwards in time and expose our beautiful beaches and our tourism-based local economies to another Deepwater Horizon,” Nelson said. “If we don’t watch it, we’re going to be right back in the same place we were eight years ago.”

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement --  one of the provisions set up in 2010 to regulate offshore drilling – plans to send the proposed changes to the Federal Register for publication this week. The Bureau will also accept public comment on the proposed changes for 60 days.