The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. (Gerald Herbert/AP)
The Trump administration has weakened offshore drilling safeguards put in place after a 2010 explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform killed 11 workers and triggered the largest ocean spill in U.S. history.
Administration officials said the revised Well Control Rule announced Thursday in Louisiana, not far from the site of the spill, reflects President Trump’s stance on “facilitating energy dominance” by increasing domestic oil and gas production and reducing burdens on the fossil fuel industry.
“Today’s final rule puts safety first, both public and environmental safety, in a common sense way,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. “Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore.”
Officials at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a division of the Interior Department that promulgated the rule, said the changes also will save the offshore oil and gas industry nearly a billion dollars over 10 years.
Politicians and conservationists who oppose the rule change are worried about its potential cost to the environment. The Deepwater Horizon disaster poured 4 million barrels of oil — about 200 million gallons — into the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.
Around the time that the Obama administration finalized the rule in 2016 to guard against another catastrophic spill, BP announced that the accident had cost the company $61.6 billion, more than the value of Ford, Honda or General Motors.
The gulf fishing industry lost nearly $95 million in 2010 alone. According to the National Audubon Society, a million seabirds died.
More than 150 whales and dolphins were found dead during the response to the spill, while surviving dolphins suffered lung defects and hormone abnormalities, according to NOAA Fisheries.
When the spill was at its worst in May 2010, a month after it started, bluefin tuna were feeding and spawning as oil polluted their habitat. The wider effect on the animals is largely unknown.
The rule change comes at a time when the administration is considering expanding offshore drilling leases to 90 percent of the United States’ outer continental shelf, including the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, an unprecedented proposal.